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Researchers say they’ve figured out what makes people reject science, and it’s not ignorance (Science Alert)

Why some people believe Earth is flat.

FIONA MACDONALD

23 JAN 2017

A lot happened in 2016, but one of the biggest cultural shifts was the rise of fake news – where claims with no evidence behind them (e.g. the world is flat) get shared as fact alongside evidence-based, peer-reviewed findings (e.g. climate change is happening).

Researchers have coined this trend the ‘anti-enlightenment movement‘, and there’s been a lot of frustration and finger-pointing over who or what’s to blame. But a team of psychologists has identified some of the key factors that can cause people to reject science – and it has nothing to do with how educated or intelligent they are.

In fact, the researchers found that people who reject scientific consensus on topics such as climate change, vaccine safety, and evolution are generally just as interested in science and as well-educated as the rest of us.

The issue is that when it comes to facts, people think more like lawyers than scientists, which means they ‘cherry pick’ the facts and studies that back up what they already believe to be true.

So if someone doesn’t think humans are causing climate change, they will ignore the hundreds of studies that support that conclusion, but latch onto the one study they can find that casts doubt on this view. This is also known as cognitive bias.

“We find that people will take a flight from facts to protect all kinds of belief including their religious belief, their political beliefs, and even simple personal beliefs such as whether they are good at choosing a web browser,” said one of the researchers, Troy Campbell from the University of Oregon.

“People treat facts as relevant more when the facts tend to support their opinions. When the facts are against their opinions, they don’t necessarily deny the facts, but they say the facts are less relevant.”

This conclusion was based on a series of new interviews, as well as a meta-analysis of the research that’s been published on the topic, and was presented in a symposium called over the weekend as part of the Society for Personality and Social Psychology annual convention in San Antonio.

The goal was to figure out what’s going wrong with science communication in 2017, and what we can do to fix it.

The research has yet to be published, so isn’t conclusive, but the results suggest that simply focussing on the evidence and data isn’t enough to change someone’s mind about a particular topic, seeing as they’ll most likely have their own ‘facts’ to fire back at you.

“Where there is conflict over societal risks – from climate change to nuclear-power safety to impacts of gun control laws, both sides invoke the mantel of science,” said one of the team, Dan Kahan from Yale University.

Instead, the researchers recommend looking into the ‘roots’ of people’s unwillingness to accept scientific consensus, and try to find common ground to introduce new ideas.

So where is this denial of science coming from? A big part of the problem, the researchers found, is that people associate scientific conclusions with political or social affiliations.

New research conducted by Kahan showed that people have actually always cherry picked facts when it comes to science – that’s nothing new. But it hasn’t been such a big problem in the past, because scientific conclusions were usually agreed on by political and cultural leaders, and promoted as being in the public’s best interests.

Now, scientific facts are being wielded like weapons in a struggle for cultural supremacy, Kahan told Melissa Healy over at the LA Times, and the result is a “polluted science communication environment”.

So how can we do better?

“Rather than taking on people’s surface attitudes directly, tailor the message so that it aligns with their motivation,” said Hornsey. “So with climate skeptics, for example, you find out what they can agree on and then frame climate messages to align with these.”

The researchers are still gathering data for a peer-reviewed publication on their findings, but they presented their work to the scientific community for further dissemination and discussion in the meantime.

Hornsey told the LA Times that the stakes are too high to continue to ignore the ‘anti-enlightenment movement’.

“Anti-vaccination movements cost lives,” said Hornsey. “Climate change skepticism slows the global response to the greatest social, economic and ecological threat of our time.”

“We grew up in an era when it was just presumed that reason and evidence were the ways to understand important issues; not fear, vested interests, tradition or faith,” he added.

“But the rise of climate skepticism and the anti-vaccination movement made us realise that these enlightenment values are under attack.”

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Conservative Koch Brothers Turning Focus to Newspapers (N.Y.Times)

Tannen Maury/European Pressphoto Agency. Tribune’s newspapers, including The Chicago Tribune, have caught the interest of a number of suitors.

By AMY CHOZICK

Published: April 20, 2013

Three years ago, Charles and David Koch, the billionaire industrialists and supporters of libertarian causes, held a seminar of like-minded, wealthy political donors at the St. Regis Resort in Aspen, Colo. They laid out a three-pronged, 10-year strategy to shift the country toward a smaller government with less regulation and taxes.

Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images. The Los Angeles Times is the fourth-largest paper in the country.

The first two pieces of the strategy — educating grass-roots activists and influencing politics — were not surprising, given the money they have given to policy institutes and political action groups. But the third one was: media.

Other than financing a few fringe libertarian publications, the Kochs have mostly avoided media investments. Now, Koch Industries, the sprawling private company of whichCharles G. Koch serves as chairman and chief executive, is exploring a bid to buy the Tribune Company’s eight regional newspapers, including The Los Angeles Times, The Chicago Tribune, The Baltimore Sun, The Orlando Sentinel and The Hartford Courant.

By early May, the Tribune Company is expected to send financial data to serious suitors in what will be among the largest sales of newspapers by circulation in the country. Koch Industries is among those interested, said several people with direct knowledge of the sale who spoke on the condition they not be named. Tribune emerged from bankruptcy on Dec. 31 and has hired JPMorgan Chase and Evercore Partners to sell its print properties.

The papers, valued at roughly $623 million, would be a financially diminutive deal for Koch Industries, the energy and manufacturing conglomerate based in Wichita, Kan., with annual revenue of about $115 billion.

Politically, however, the papers could serve as a broader platform for the Kochs’ laissez-faire ideas. The Los Angeles Times is the fourth-largest paper in the country, and The Tribune is No. 9, and others are in several battleground states, including two of the largest newspapers in Florida, The Orlando Sentinel and The Sun Sentinel in Fort Lauderdale. A deal could include Hoy, the second-largest Spanish-language daily newspaper, which speaks to the pivotal Hispanic demographic.

One person who attended the Aspen seminar who spoke on the condition of anonymity described the strategy as follows: “It was never ‘How do we destroy the other side?’ ”

“It was ‘How do we make sure our voice is being heard?’ ”

Guests at the Aspen seminar included Philip F. Anschutz, the Republican oil mogul who owns the companies that publish The Washington Examiner, The Oklahoman and The Weekly Standard, and the hedge fund executive Paul E. Singer, who sits on the board of the political magazine Commentary. Attendees were asked not to discuss details about the seminar with the press.

A person who has attended other Koch Industries seminars, which have taken place since 2003, says Charles and David Koch have never said they want to take over newspapers or other large media outlets, but they often say “they see the conservative voice as not being well represented.” The Kochs plan to host another conference at the end of the month, in Palm Springs, Calif.

At this early stage, the thinking inside the Tribune Company, the people close to the deal said, is that Koch Industries could prove the most appealing buyer. Others interested, including a group of wealthy Los Angeles residents led by the billionaire Eli Broad and Ronald W. Burkle, both prominent Democratic donors, and Rupert Murdoch’s News Corporation, would prefer to buy only The Los Angeles Times.

The Tribune Company has signaled it prefers to sell all eight papers and their back-office operations as a bundle. (Tribune, a $7 billion media company that also owns 23 television stations, could also decide to keep the papers if they do not attract a high enough offer.)

Koch Industries is one of the largest sponsors of libertarian causes — including the financing of policy groups like the Cato Institute in Washington and the formation of Americans for Prosperity, the political action group that helped galvanize Tea Party organizations and their causes. The company has said it has no direct link to the Tea Party.

This month a Koch representative contacted Eddy W. Hartenstein, publisher and chief executive of The Los Angeles Times, to discuss a bid, according to a person briefed on the conversation who spoke on the condition of anonymity because the conversation was private. Mr. Hartenstein declined to comment.

Koch Industries recently brought on Angela Redding, a consultant based in Salt Lake City, to analyze the media environment and assess opportunities. Ms. Redding, who previously worked at the Charles G. Koch Charitable Foundation, did not respond to requests for comment.

“As an entrepreneurial company with 60,000 employees around the world, we are constantly exploring profitable opportunities in many industries and sectors. So, it is natural that our name would come up in connection with this rumor,” Melissa Cohlmia, a spokeswoman for Koch Companies Public Sector, said in a statement last month.

“We respect the independence of the journalistic institutions referenced in the news stories,” Ms. Cohlmia continued. “But it is our longstanding policy not to comment on deals or rumors of deals we may or may not be exploring.”

One person who has previously advised Koch Industries said the Tribune Company papers were considered an investment opportunity, and were viewed as entirely separate from Charles and David Kochs’ lifelong mission to shrink the size of government.

At least in politically liberal Los Angeles, a conservative paper could be tricky. David H. Koch, who lives in New York and serves as executive vice president of Koch Industries, has said he supports gay marriage and could align with many residents on some social issues, Reed Galen, a Republican consultant in Orange County, Calif., said.

Koch Industries’ main competitor for The Los Angeles Times is a group of mostly Democratic local residents. In the 2012 political cycle, Mr. Broad gave $477,800, either directly or through his foundation, to Democratic candidates and causes, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. Mr. Burkle has long championed labor unions. President Bill Clinton served as an adviser to Mr. Burkle’s money management firm, Yucaipa Companies, which in 2012 gave $107,500 to Democrats and related causes. The group also includes Austin Beutner, a Democratic candidate for mayor of Los Angeles, and an investment banker who co-founded Evercore Partners.

“This will be a bipartisan group,” Mr. Beutner said. “It’s not about ideology, it’s about a civic interest.” (The Los Angeles consortium is expected to also include Andrew Cherng, founder of the Panda Express Chinese restaurant chain and a Republican.)

“It’s a frightening scenario when a free press is actually a bought and paid-for press and it can happen on both sides,” said Ellen Miller, executive director of the Sunlight Foundation, a nonpartisan watchdog group.

Last month, shortly after L.A. Weekly first reported on Koch Industries’ interest in the Tribune papers, the liberal Web site Daily Kos and Courage Campaign, a Los Angeles-based liberal advocacy group, collected thousands of signatures protesting such a deal. Conservatives, meanwhile, welcomed the idea of a handful of prominent papers spreading the ideas of economic “freedom” from taxes and regulation that the Kochs have championed.

Seton Motley, president of Less Government, an organization devoted to shrinking the role of the government, said the 2012 presidential election reinforced the view that conservatives needed a broader media presence.

“A running joke among conservatives as we watched the G.O.P. establishment spend $500 million on ineffectual TV ads is ‘Why don’t you just buy NBC?’ ” Mr. Motley said. “It’s good the Kochs are talking about fighting fire with a little fire.”

Koch Industries has for years felt the mainstream media unfairly covered the company and its founding family because of its political beliefs. KochFacts.com, a Web site run by the company, disputes perceived press inaccuracies. The site, which asserts liberal bias in the news media, has published private e-mail conversations between company press officers and journalists, including the Politico reporter Kenneth P. Vogel and editors at The New Yorker in response to an article about the Kochs by Jane Mayer.

“So far, they haven’t seemed to be particularly enthusiastic about the role of the free press,” Ms. Mayer said in an e-mail, “but hopefully, if they become newspaper publishers, they’ll embrace it with a bit more enthusiasm.”

A Democratic political operative who spoke on the condition of anonymity, said he admired how over decades the brothers have assembled a complex political infrastructure that supports their agenda. A media company seems like a logical next step.

This person said, “If they get some bad press that Darth Vader is buying Tribune, they don’t care.”

Black and White and Red All Over (Foreign Policy)

How the hyperkinetic media is breeding a new generation of terrorists.

BY SCOTT ATRAN | APRIL 22, 2013

“Americans refuse to be terrorized,” declared President Barack Obama in the aftermath of the Boston Marathon bombings. “Ultimately, that’s what we’ll remember from this week.” Believe that, and I’ve got a bridge to sell you in Brooklyn.

The Boston bombings have provoked the most intense display of law enforcement and media coverage since the 9/11 attacks. Greater Boston was in full lockdown: “a ghost town,” “a city in terror,” “a war zone,” screamed the headlines. Public transit was stopped, a no-fly zone proclaimed, people told to stay indoors, schools and universities closed, and hundreds of FBI agents pulled from other pressing investigations to focus exclusively on the case — along with thousands upon thousands of other federal, state, and city agents equipped with heavy weapons and armored vehicles. It all came close to martial law, with all the tools of the security state mobilized to track down a pair of young immigrants with low-tech explosives and small arms who failed to reconcile their problems of identity and became suspected amateur terrorists.

Not that the events weren’t shocking and brutal. But this law enforcement and media response, of course, is part of the overall U.S. reaction to terrorism since 9/11, when perhaps never in history have so few, armed with so few means, caused so much fear in so many. Indeed, as with the anarchists a century ago, last week’s response is precisely the outsized reaction that sponsors of terrorism have always counted on in order to terrorize.

Nothing compares to the grief of parents whose child has been murdered like 8-year-old Martin Richard, except perhaps the collective grief of many parents, as for the 20 children killed in last December’s school massacre in Newtown, Conn. Yet, despite the fact that the probability of a child, or anyone else in the United States, being killed by a terrorist bomb is vastly smaller than being killed by an unregistered handgun — or even by an unregulated fertilizer plant — U.S. politicians and the public seem likely to continue to support uncritically the extravagant measures associated with an irrational policy of “zero tolerance” for terrorism, as opposed to much-more-than-zero tolerance for nearly all other threats of violence. Given the millions of dollars already spent on the Boston bombing investigation and the trillions that the national response to terrorism has cost in little more than a decade, the public deserves a more reasoned response. We can never, ever be absolutely safe, no matter how much treasure we spend or how many civil liberties we sacrifice.

While there is always the chance that investigators will find foreign connections and broader plots beyond the doings of the two men suspected in the Boston bombing, our knowledge about terrorism suggests that what we already know about the April 15 bombing does not justify the disproportionate and overwrought response, including the “global security alert” U.S. authorities issued through Interpol for 190 countries. Even if the suspected Boston bombers prove to be part of a larger network of jihadi wannabes, as were the 2005 London subway suicide bombers, or had planned more operations before dying in a blaze of glory, as did the 2004 Madrid train bombers, these would-be knights under the prophet’s banner could never alone wreak the havoc that our reaction to them does.

The brothers Tsarnaev, the suspected Boston bombers, have been described by neighbors, friends, and relatives as fairly normal young men — regular Cambridge kinds. They left the Chechen conflict years ago and immigrated to the United States as asylum seekers under the U.S. government’s refugee resettlement program. Tamerlan, the oldest, was married with a 3-year-old daughter. A former Golden Gloves heavyweight boxer who once thought of competing for the United States, he had been increasingly drawn to radical Islam in the last few years. In a photo essay about his fondness for boxing, he worried, “I don’t have a single American friend; I don’t understand them.” He complained, “There are no values anymore,” forswearing drinking because “God said no alcohol.” Tamerlan’s YouTube page posts videos of radical Islamic clerics from Chechnya and elsewhere haranguing the West as bombs explode in the background. In 2011, the FBI interviewed Tamerlan at Russia’s request about connections to Chechen extremists, but the investigation found “no derogatory information.” Although Russian forces withdrew from Chechnya in 2009, violence has persisted in neighboring Dagestan, where Tamerlan visited his father last year and perhaps linked up with jihadi instigators who motivated him to act. Like the father of 9/11 pilot bomber Mohamed Atta, Tamerlan’s father claims his boy was framed and murdered. In his last reported phone communication, on Thursday, just hours before the police shootout began, he called his mother.

The younger brother, Dzhokhar, a sophomore at the University of Massachusetts in Dartmouth, played intramural soccer. On the day after the bombing he went to the dorms, worked out at the gym, and that night went to a party attended by some of his soccer buddies. Known to his friends as Jahar, he entered the university on a scholarship but lately had been failing his classes. He hung out with other students, had an easy relationship with the other young men and women, hardly ever talked politics, and was never pegged as an Islamist activist or sympathizer or even as particularly religious. Whereas relatives, friends, and teachers consistently describe Jahar as “always smiling,” “with a heart of gold,” acquaintances say Tamerlan never smiled and was aggressive. One cousin said he warned Jahar about being susceptible to the negative influence of the older brother he loved. In the last few months, Jahar’s tweets began turning darker: “i won’t run i’ll just gun you all out #thugliving,” “Do I look like that much of a softy … little do these dogs know they’re barking at a lion,” “I killed Abe Lincoln during my two hour nap #intensedream.” But declaring this wayward killer — and a naturalized citizen, at that — an “enemy combatant” borders on Orwellian.

Under sponsorship by the Defense Department, my multidisciplinary, multinational research team has been conducting field studies and analyses of the mental and social processes involved in radicalization at home and abroad. Our findings indicate that terrorist plotters against Western civilian populations tend not to be parts of sophisticated, foreign-based command-and-control organizations. Rather, they belong to loose, homegrown networks of family and friends who die not just for a cause, but for each other. Jihadists pretty much span the population’s normal distribution: There are very few psychopaths and sociopaths, few brilliant thinkers and strategists. Jihadi wannabes today are mostly emerging adults in transitional stages of their lives — students, immigrants, in search of jobs or companions — who are especially prone to movements that promise a meaningful cause, camaraderie, adventure, and glory. Most have a secular education, becoming “born again” into the jihadi cause in their late teens or 20s. The path to radicalization can take years, months, or just days, depending on personal vulnerabilities and the influence of others. Occasionally there is a hookup with a relative, or a friend of a friend, who has some overseas connection to someone who can get them a bit of training and motivation to pack a bag of explosives or pull a trigger, but the Internet and social media are usually sufficient for radicalization and even operational preparation.

The result is not a hierarchic, centrally commanded terrorist movement but a decentralized, self-organizing, and constantly evolving complex of social networks based on contingent adaptations to changing events. These are no real “cells,” but only clusters of mostly young men who motivate one another within “brotherhoods” of real and fictive kin. Often, in fact, there is an older brother figure, a dominant personality who mobilizes others in the group. But rarely is there an overriding authority or father figure. (Notably, for these transitional youth, there’s often an absence of a real father).

Some of the most successful plots, such as the Madrid and London bombings, are so anarchic, fluid, and improbable that they succeeded in evading detection despite the fact that intelligence and law enforcement agencies had been following some of the actors for some time. Three key elements characterize the “organized anarchy” that typifies modern violent Islamic activism: Ultimate goals are vague and superficial (often no deeper than revenge against perceived injustice against Muslims around the world); modes of action are decided pragmatically on the basis of trial and error or based on the residue of learning from accidents of past experience; and those who join are not recruited but are locally linked self-seekers — often from the same family, neighborhood, or Internet chat room — whose connection to global jihad is more virtual than material. Al Qaeda and associates do not so much recruit as attract disaffected individuals who have already decided to embark on the path to violent extremism with the help of family, friends, or a few fellow travelers.

Like the young men who carried out the Madrid and London attacks, most homegrown jihadi plotters first hook up with the broad protest sentiment against “the global attack on Islam” before moving into a narrower parallel universe. They cut ties with former companions who they believe are too timid to act and cement bonds with those who are willing to strike. They emerge from their cocoon with strong commitment to strike and die if necessary, but without any clear contingency planning for what might happen after the initial attack.

For the first time in history, a massive, media-driven political awakening has been occurring — spurred by the advent of the Internet, social media, and cable television — that can, on the one hand, motivate universal respect for human rights while, on the other, enable, say, Muslims from Borneo to sacrifice themselves for Palestine, Afghanistan, or Chechnya (despite almost no contact or shared history for the last 50,000 years or so). When perceived global injustice resonates with frustrated personal aspirations, moral outrage gives universal meaning and provides the push to radicalization and violent action.

But the popular notion of a “clash of civilizations” between Islam and the West is woefully misleading. Violent extremism represents not the resurgence of traditional cultures, but their collapse, as young people unmoored from millennial traditions flail about in search of a social identity that gives personal significance. This is the dark side of globalization.

Take Faisal Shahzad, the would-be bomber of Times Square in 2010, or Maj. Nidal Hasan, who killed 13 fellow soldiers at Fort Hood in 2009. Both were apparently inspired by the online rhetoric of Anwar al-Awlaki, a former preacher at a Northern Virginia mosque who was killed by a U.S. drone in Yemen in 2011. Although many commentators leapt to the conclusion that Awlaki and his ilk deviously brainwashed and recruited Shahzad and Hassan, in fact they sought out the popular Internet preacher because they were already radicalized to the point of wanting further guidance to act. As Defense Department terrorism consultant Marc Sageman notes: “Just like you saw Major Hasan send 21 emails to al-Awlaki, who sends him two back, you have people seeking these guys and asking them for advice.” More than 80 percent of plots in both Europe and the United States were concocted from the bottom up by mostly young people just hooking up with one another.

Especially for young men, mortal combat with a “band of brothers” in the service of a great cause is both the ultimate adventure and a road to esteem in the hearts of their peers. For many disaffected souls today, jihad is a heroic cause — a promise that anyone from anywhere can make a mark against the most powerful country in the history of the world. But because would-be jihadists best thrive and act in small groups and among networks of family and friends — not in large movements or armies — their threat can only match their ambitions if fueled way beyond actual strength. And publicity is the oxygen that fires modern terrorism.

It is not by arraying “every element of our national power” against would-be jihadists and those who inspire them that violent extremism will be stopped, as Obama once declared. Although wide-ranging intelligence, good police work, and security preparedness (including by the military and law enforcement) is required to track and thwart the expansion of al Qaeda affiliates into the Arabian Peninsula, Syria (and perhaps Jordan), North Africa, and East Africa, this is insufficient. As 2012 U.S. presidential candidate Mitt Romney quipped, “We can’t kill our way out of this mess.” In the United States, there are many pockets of displaced immigrant and refugee young people with even more than the usual struggles of personal development. Young Somalis seem to be having particular difficulty, and a small few are moving to the path of violent jihad. This is a good time to think about how we relate to them, though there are probably more easy mistakes than easy solutions. But political attempts to relate these problems to the very different issue of illegal immigration only adds to the scaremongering.

We need to pay attention to what makes these young men want to die to kill, by listening to their families and friends, trying to engage them on the Internet, and seeing whom they idolize, how they organize, what bonds them, and what drives them. U.S. power won’t stop the self-seeking, and preaching “moderate” Islam (or moderate anything) is hardly likely to sway young men in search of significance and glory. And even if every airplane passenger were to be scanned naked or every American city locked down, it would not stop young men from joining the jihad or concocting new ways of killing civilians.

Terrorists are directly responsible for violent acts, but only indirectly for the reaction that follows. Objectively, terrorist acts on even a 9/11 scale could never seriously harm American society; only our reaction can. By amplifying and connecting relatively sporadic terrorist acts into a generalized “war” or “assault on freedom,” the somewhat marginal phenomenon of terrorism has become a primary preoccupation of the U.S. government and American people. In this sense, Osama bin Laden has been victorious beyond his wildest dreams — not because of anything he has done, but because of how we have reacted to the episodic successes he inspires.

There are several ways to react to the political hype and media amplification of terrorism. Doing nothing and allowing this frenzied media environment to continue will only encourage future attacks; meanwhile, reporting that rushes to judgment and complements law enforcement’s denial of Miranda rights will only erode confidence in the integrity and fairness of the American press and U.S. government institutions. Legal regulation of media, as in many other countries, may not be compatible with a free society and if tried would certainly provoke persistent opposition and deep outrage. For example, previous attempts by the British government to ban interviews with terrorists and their supporters backfired. As the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals noted in 2002, “Democracies die behind closed doors.” Even noncoercive guidelines are likely to incite widespread resistance. As former New York Times Executive Editor A.M. Rosenthal put it: “The last thing in the world I want is guidelines. I don’t want guidelines from the government … or anyone else.”

But voluntary self-restraint by the media, which is less intrusive and supported by many, is not only possible but manageable. (Venerable journalist Edward R. Murrow, informed by President Franklin D. Roosevelt on the specifics of the Pearl Harbor attack, declined the scoop and didn’t file his report until the administration could formulate a reasoned response.) Of course, “gentle censorship,” like the initially successful attempts by George W. Bush’s administration to prevent airing of bin Laden messages or talks with terrorists, can seriously hamper the flow of knowledge necessary for understanding what makes terrorists tick and how to thwart them.

The First Amendment enables the news media to watchdog the republic and help prevent government excesses and abuses so that a well-informed public can monitor and decide where government policy should go. Yet the media is increasingly less a public service devoted to this task than a competitive business that believes it best succeeds through sensation, which violence privileges. For example, the typical television news story has declined from an average of several minutes in the 1950s and 1960s to today’s repeated sound bites — often no more than a few seconds — that sensationalize the spectacular. And despite the fact that one of the suspected Boston bombers is now dead and the other in custody, it can be argued that their terrorism succeeded through the spectacular theater of last week’s events, capturing our attention and stoking our deepest fears.

We can break this real, if unplanned, alliance between terrorism and the media through better reporting for the social good, which may prove to be the best business strategy of all. When we practice restraint and show the resilience of people carrying on with their lives even in the face of atrocities like that in Boston, then terrorism fails.

Scott Atran, an anthropologist at John Jay College, the University of Michigan, and Oxford University, is co-founder of ARTIS Research and author of Talking to the Enemy.

The Folly of Defunding Social Science (Huffington Post)

Scott Atran

Posted: 03/15/2013 10:55 pm

With the so-called sequester geared to cut billions of dollars to domestic programs, military funding, social services, and government-sponsored scientific research — including about a 6 percent reduction for the National Institutes of Health and the National Science Foundation — policymakers and professionals are scrambling to stave off the worst by resetting priorities. One increasingly popular proposal among congressional budget hawks is to directly link federal funding of science to graduate employment data that seriously underestimates the importance and impact of social sciences to the nation at large, in order to effectively justify eliminating social science from the federal research budget. For example, federal legislation introduced by Senators Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), and Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), would require states to match information from unemployment insurance databases with individual student data and publish the results, which would show earnings by program at each institution of higher education. But educators and economists note that measuring return on investment via salary alone is too simplistic: liberal arts majors often start out at lower salaries but make more than their peers in later decades. Even more worrisome, in the guise of practicality, such maneuvers offer up a not-so-veiled attempt to justify eliminating government funding for the social sciences, perilously underestimating their importance and impact to the economy and national welfare.

In a major speech last month, Eric Cantor, the U.S. House majority leader, proposed outright to defund political and social science: “Funds currently spent by the government on social science — including on politics of all things — would be better spent on curing diseases.” Cantor’s call to gut the federal research budget for social science echoes Florida governor Rick Scott’s push to eliminate state funding for disciplines like anthropology and psychology in favor of “degrees where people can get jobs,” especially in technology and medicine. Targeting the social sciences with little understanding of their content is an old story for legislature looking to score cheap political points. The late Sen. William Proxmire (D-Ark.) used to scour the titles of NSF-funded projects in psychology and anthropology, looking for recipients of his Golden Fleece Awards without bothering to examine the results of the research he myopically pilloried. Such shenanigans ignore the fact that social science research provides precise knowledge that is relevant to people’s practical needs and the nation’s economic and security priorities. Most government laws, programs, and outlays directly concern social issues, including the establishment and means of government itself, and the need for law enforcement, military capabilities, education, and commerce.

Gutting social science also undermines national security. For, despite hundreds of billions of taxpayer dollars poured into the global war on terrorism, radicalization against our country’s core interests continues to spread — and social science offers better ways than war to turn the tide. Moreover, social science is in fact moving the “hard” sciences forward. For example, recent research based on social science modeling of cancer cells as cooperative agents in competition with communities of healthy cells holds the promise of more effective cancer treatment. Those who would defund social science seriously misconstrue the relationship between the wide-ranging freedom of scientific research and its ability to unlock the deeper organizing principles linking seemingly unrelated phenomena.

The Founding Fathers envisioned a Republic with an enlightened citizenry educated in “all philosophical Experiments that Light into the Nature of Things … and multiply the Conveniences or Pleasures of Life” — not just technical training for jobs that pay well.

Appeals court rules U.S. whaling foes are ‘pirates’ (USA Today)

Michael Winter, USA TODAY- 7:35p.m. EST February 27, 2013

Sea Shepherd activists have collided with Japanese ships in campaign to halt whale hunts.

A federal appeals court has declared the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society to be modern-day pirates and ordered the anti-whaling activists to stop confronting Japanese ships in the waters off Antarctica.

A three-judge panel of the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals reversed and rebuked a lower-court judge in Seattle, who had sided with Washington state-based Sea Shepherd and dismissed a lawsuit filed by Japanese whalers seeking to halt the protests. An international treaty allows governments to kill whales for research.

In its ruling late Monday, the appeals court also ordered U.S. District Judge Richard Jones removed from the case, saying “numerous, serious and obvious errors identified in our opinion raise doubts as to whether he will be perceived as impartial.”

Sea Shepherd ships, sailing from Australia, often block or harass whaling vessels from the Institute of Cetacean Research, sometimes resulting in collisions. During the past week, two of the group’s vessels were damaged while trying to prevent Japanese whaling vessels from refueling.

In the appellate court’s ruling, Chief Judge Alex Kozinski wrote that the activists were threatening the lives of whalers, calling their tactics “the very embodiment of piracy.”

Here’s how he began the 18-page opinion:

You don’t need a peg leg or an eye patch. When you ram ships; hurl glass containers of acid; drag metal-reinforced ropes in the water to damage propellers and rudders; launch smoke bombs and flares with hooks; and point high-powered lasers at other ships, you are, without a doubt, a pirate, no matter how high-minded you believe your purpose to be.

Kozinski wrote that Jones was “off base” when he concluded that the protesters’ tactics were nonviolent because they did not target people, just ships and equipment.

Jones also ruled that the hunters were violating an Australian court ban and therefore could not pursue their lawsuit in the United States. The appeals court rejected that argument, saying the whalers’ lawsuit could proceed in U.S. courts under international maritime law.

An attorney representing Sea Shepherd told the Associated Press he would ask an 11-judge panel of the appeals court to review the three-judge opinion.

A Sea Shepherd official told KIRO Radio on Tuesday that because the U.S. branch had separated from its Australian counterparts, the ruling had no bearing.

“What Sea Shepherd Australia is doing with Australian flagged vessels and Dutch flagged vessels down in the Australian Antarctic territory is outside of any sort of control of the courts in the United States,” said Scott West, director of investigations for Sea Shepherd. “We have yet to hurt anybody, we have yet to plunder any gold or do anything that would fit within the definition” of piracy law.

Sea Shepherd Australia released video that it said showed a Japanese whalerramming two of its ships last week. Tuesday, the ICR countered with video that it claims shows Sea Shepherd “sabotage” by ramming a whaling vessel.

Sea Shephred’s efforts have been featured on Animal Planet’s Whale Wars.

The Politics of Disimagination and the Pathologies of Power (Truth Out)

Wednesday, 27 February 2013 00:00

By Henry A GirouxTruthout | News Analysis

Eye reflecitng TV(Photo: tryingmyhardest). You write in order to change the world knowing perfectly well that you probably can’t, but also knowing that [writing] is indispensable to the world. The world changes according to the way people see it, and if you alter even by a millimeter the way people look at reality, then you can change it.” – James Baldwin

The Violence of Neoliberalism

We live in a time of deep foreboding, one that haunts any discourse about justice, democracy and the future. Not only have the points of reference that provided a sense of certainty and collective hope in the past largely evaporated, but the only referents available are increasingly supplied by a hyper-market-driven society, megacorporations and a corrupt financial service industry. The commanding economic and cultural institutions of American society have taken on what David Theo Goldberg calls a “militarizing social logic.”[1] Market discipline now regulates all aspects of social life, and the regressive economic rationality that drives it sacrifices the public good, public values and social responsibility to a tawdry consumerist dream while simultaneously creating a throwaway society of goods, resources and individuals now considered disposable.[2] This militarizing logic is also creeping into public schools and colleges with the former increasingly resembling the culture of prison and the latter opening their classrooms to the national intelligence agencies.[3] In one glaring instance of universities endorsing the basic institutions of the punishing state, Florida Atlantic University in Boca Raton, concluded a deal to rename its football stadium after the GEO Group, a private prison corporation “whose record is marred by human rights abuses, by lawsuits, by unnecessary deaths of people in their custody and a whole series of incidents.” [3A] Armed guards are now joined by armed knowledge.  Corruption, commodification and repressive state apparatuses have become the central features of a predatory society in which it is presumed irrationally “that market should dominate and determine all choices and outcomes to the occlusion of any other considerations.”[4]

The political, economic, and social consequences have done more than destroy any viable vision of a good society. They undermine the modern public’s capacity to think critically, celebrate a narcissistic hyperindividualism that borders on the pathological, destroy social protections and promote a massive shift towards a punitive state that criminalizes the behavior of those bearing the hardships imposed by a survival-of-the-fittest society that takes delight in the suffering of others. How else to account for a criminal justice stacked overwhelmingly against poor minorities, a prison system in which “prisoners can be held in solitary confinement for years in small, windowless cells in which they are kept for twenty-three hours of every day,”[5] or a police state that puts handcuffs on a 5-year old and puts him in jail because he violated a dress code by wearing sneakers that were the wrong color.[6] Why does the American public put up with a society in which “the top 1 percent of households owned 35.6 percent of net wealth (net worth) and a whopping 42.4 percent of net financial assets” in 2009, while many young people today represent the “new face of a national homeless population?”[7] American society is awash in a culture of civic illiteracy, cruelty and corruption. For example, major banks such as Barclays and HSBC swindle billions from clients and increase their profit margins by laundering money for terrorist organizations, and no one goes to jail. At the same time, we have the return of debtor prisons for the poor who cannot pay something as trivial as a parking fine. President Obama arbitrarily decides that he can ignore due process and kill American citizens through drone strikes and the American public barely blinks. Civic life collapses into a war zone and yet the dominant media is upset only because it was not invited to witness the golf match between Obama and Tiger Woods.

The celebration of violence in both virtual culture and real life now feed each other. The spectacle of carnage celebrated in movies such as A Good Day to Die Hard is now matched by the deadly violence now playing out in cities such as Chicago and New Orleans. Young people are particularly vulnerable to such violence, with 561 children age 12 and under killed by firearms between 2006 and 2010.[8] Corporate power, along with its shameless lobbyists and intellectual pundits, unabashedly argue for more guns in order to feed the bottom line, even as the senseless carnage continues tragically in places like Newtown, Connecticut, Tustin, California, and other American cities. In the meantime, the mainstream media treats the insane rambling of National Rifle Association’s (NRA) Executive Vice President Wayne LaPierre as a legitimate point of view among many voices. This is the same guy who, after the killing of 20 young children and six adults at Sandy Hook Elementary School, claimed the only way to stop more tragedies was to flood the market with more guns and provide schools with more armed guards. The American public was largely silent on the issue in spite of the fact that an increase of police in schools does nothing to prevent such massacres but does increase the number of children, particularly poor black youth, who are pulled out of class, booked and arrested for trivial behavioral infractions.

At the same time, America’s obsession with violence is reinforced by a market society that is Darwinian in its pursuit of profit and personal gain at almost any cost. Within this scenario, a social and economic order has emerged that combines the attributes and values of films such as the classics Mad Max and American Psycho. Material deprivation, galloping inequality, the weakening of public supports, the elimination of viable jobs, the mindless embrace of rabid competition and consumption, and the willful destruction of the environment speak to a society in which militarized violence finds its counterpart, if not legitimating credo, in a set of atomizing and selfish values that disdain shared social bonds and any notion of the public good. In this case, American society now mimics a market-driven culture that celebrates a narcissistic hyperindividualism that radiates with a new sociopathic lack of interest in others and a strong tendency towards violence and criminal behavior. As John le Carré once stated, “America has entered into one of its periods of historical madness.”[9] While le Carré wrote this acerbic attack on American politics in 2003, I think it is fair to say that things have gotten worse, and that the United States is further plunging into madness because of a deadening form of historical and social amnesia that has taken over the country, further reproducing a mass flight from memory and social responsibility. The politics of disimagination includes, in this instance, what Mumia Abu-Jamal labeled “mentacide,” a form of historical amnesia “inflicted on Black youth by the system’s systematic campaign to eradicate and deny them their people’s revolutionary history.”[10]

America’s Plunge Into Militarized Madness

How does one account for the lack of public outcry over millions of Americans losing their homes because of corrupt banking practices and millions more becoming unemployed because of the lack of an adequate jobs program in the United States, while at the same time stories abound of colossal greed and corruption on Wall Street? [11] For example, in 2009 alone, hedge fund manager David Tepper made approximately 4 billion dollars.[12] As Michael Yates points out: “This income, spent at a rate of $10,000 a day and exclusive of any interest, would last him and his heirs 1,096 years! If we were to suppose that Mr. Tepper worked 2,000 hours in 2009 (fifty weeks at forty hours per week), he took in $2,000,000 per hour and $30,000 a minute.”[13] This juxtaposition of robber-baron power and greed is rarely mentioned in the mainstream media in conjunction with the deep suffering and misery now experienced by millions of families, workers, children, jobless public servants and young people. This is especially true of a generation of youth who have become the new precariat[14] – a zero generation relegated to zones of social and economic abandonment and marked by zero jobs, zero future, zero hope and what Zygmunt Bauman has defined as a societal condition which is more “liquid,”less defined, punitive, and, in the end, more death dealing.[15]

Narcissism and unchecked greed have morphed into more than a psychological category that points to a character flaw among a marginal few. Such registers are now symptomatic of a market-driven society in which extremes of violence, militarization, cruelty and inequality are hardly noticed and have become normalized. Avarice and narcissism are not new. What is new is the unprecedented social sanction of the ethos of greed that has emerged since the 1980s.[16] What is also new is that military force and values have become a source of pride rather than alarm in American society. Not only has the war on terror violated a host of civil liberties, it has further sanctioned a military that has assumed a central role in American society, influencing everything from markets and education to popular culture and fashion. President Dwight D. Eisenhower left office warning about the rise of the military-industrial complex, with its pernicious alignment of the defense industry, the military and political power.[17] What he underestimated was the transition from a militarized economy to a militarized society in which the culture itself was shaped by military power, values and interests. What has become clear in contemporary America is that the organization of civil society for the production of violence is about more than producing militarized technologies and weapons; it is also about producing militarized subjects and a permanent war economy. As Aaron B. O’Connell points outs:

Our culture has militarized considerably since Eisenhower’s era, and civilians, not the armed services, have been the principal cause. From lawmakers’ constant use of “support our troops” to justify defense spending, to TV programs and video games like “NCIS,” “Homeland”and “Call of Duty,” to NBC’s shameful and unreal reality show “Stars Earn Stripes,” Americans are subjected to a daily diet of stories that valorize the military while the storytellers pursue their own opportunistic political and commercial agendas.[18]

The imaginary of war and violence informs every aspect of American society and extends from the celebration of a warrior culture in mainstream media to the use of universities to educate students in the logic of the national security state. Military deployments now protect “free trade” arrangements, provide job programs and drain revenue from public coffers. For instance, Lockheed Martin stands to gain billions of dollars in profits as Washington prepares to buy 2,443 F-35 fighter planes at a cost of $90 million each from the company. The overall cost of the project for a plane that has been called a “one trillion dollar boondoggle” is expected to cost more “than Australia’s entire GDP ($924 billion).”[19] Yet, the American government has no qualms about cutting food programs for the poor, early childhood programs for low-income students and food stamps for those who exist below the poverty line. Such misplaced priorities represent more than a military-industrial complex that is out of control. They also suggest the plunge of American society into the dark abyss of a state that is increasingly punitive, organized around the production of violence and unethical in its policies, priorities and values.

John Hinkson argues that such institutionalized violence is far from a short-lived and aberrant historical moment. In fact, he rightfully asserts that: “we have a new world economy, one crucially that lacks all substantial points of reference and is by implication nihilistic. The point is that this is not a temporary situation because of the imperatives, say, of war: it is a structural break with the past.”[20] Evidence of such a shift is obvious in the massive transfer upward in wealth and income that have not only resulted in the concentration of power in relatively few hands, but have promoted both unprecedented degrees of human suffering and hardship along with what can be called a politics of disimagination.

The Rise of the “Disimagination Machine”

Borrowing from Georges Didi-Huberman’s use of the term, “disimagination machine,” I argue that the politics of disimagination refers to images, and I would argue institutions, discourses, and other modes of representation, that undermine the capacity of individuals to bear witness to a different and critical sense of remembering, agency, ethics and collective resistance.[21] The “disimagination machine” is both a set of cultural apparatuses extending from schools and mainstream media to the new sites of screen culture, and a public pedagogy that functions primarily to undermine the ability of individuals to think critically, imagine the unimaginable, and engage in thoughtful and critical dialogue: put simply, to become critically informed citizens of the world.

Examples of the “disimagination machine” abound. A few will suffice. For instance, the Texas State Board of Education and other conservative boards of education throughout the United States are rewriting American textbooks to promote and impose on America’s public school students what Katherine Stewart calls “a Christian nationalist version of US history” in which Jesus is implored to “invade” public schools.[22] In this version of history, the term “slavery” is removed from textbooks and replaced with “Atlantic triangular trade,” the earth is 6,000 years old, and the Enlightenment is the enemy of education. Historical figures such as Jefferson, Thomas Paine and Benjamin Franklin, considered to have suspect religious views, “are ruthlessly demoted or purged altogether from the study program.”[23] Currently, 46 percent of the American population believes in the creationist view of evolution and increasingly rejects scientific evidence, research and rationality as either ‘academic’ or irreligious.[24]

The rise of the Tea Party and the renewal of the culture wars have resulted in a Republican Party which is now considered the party of anti-science. Similarly, right-wing politicians, media, talk show hosts and other conservative pundits loudly and widely spread the message that a culture of questioning is antithetical to the American way of life. Moreover, this message is also promoted by conservative groups such as The American Legislative Exchange Council, (ALEC) which has “hit the ground running in 2013, pushing ‘model bills’ mandating the teaching of climate change denial in public school systems.”[25] The climate-change-denial machine is also promoted by powerful conservative groups such as the Heartland Institute. Ignorance is never too far from repression, as was recently demonstrated in Arizona, where State Rep. Bob Thorpe, a Republican freshman Tea Party member, introduced a new bill requiring students to take a loyalty oath in order to receive a graduation diploma.[26]

The “disimagination machine” is more powerful than ever as conservative think tanks provide ample funds for training and promoting anti-public pseudo-intellectuals and religious fundamentalists while simultaneously offering policy statements and talking points to conservative media such as FOX News, Christian news networks, right-wing talk radio, and partisan social media and blogs. This ever growing information/illiteracy bubble has become a powerful force of public pedagogy in the larger culture and is responsible for not only the war on science, reason and critical thought, but also the war on women’s reproductive rights, poor minority youth, immigrants, public schooling, and any other marginalized group or institution that challenges the anti-intellectual, anti-democratic worldviews of the new extremists and the narrative supporting Christian nationalism. Liberal Democrats, of course, contribute to this “disimagination machine” through educational policies that substitute critical thinking and critical pedagogy for paralyzing pedagogies of memorization and rote learning tied to high-stakes testing in the service of creating a neoliberal, dumbed-down workforce.

As John Atcheson has pointed out, we are “witnessing an epochal shift in our socio-political world. We are de-evolving, hurtling headlong into a past that was defined by serfs and lords; by necromancy and superstition; by policies based on fiat, not facts.”[27] We are also plunging into a dark world of anti-intellectualism, civic illiteracy and a formative culture supportive of an authoritarian state. The embrace of ignorance is at the center of political life today, and a reactionary form of public pedagogy has become the most powerful element of the politics of authoritarianism. Civic illiteracy is the modus operandi for creating depoliticized subjects who believe that consumerism is the only obligation of citizenship, who privilege opinions over reasoned arguments, and who are led to believe that ignorance is a virtue rather than a political and civic liability. In any educated democracy, much of the debate that occupies political life today, extending from creationism and climate change denial to “birther” arguments, would be speedily dismissed as magical thinking, superstition and an obvious form of ignorance. Mark Slouka is right in arguing that, “Ignorance gives us a sense of community; it confers citizenship; our representatives either share it or bow down to it or risk our wrath…. Communicate intelligently in America and you’re immediately suspect.”[28] The politics and machinery of disimagination and its production of ever-deepening ignorance dominates American society because it produces, to a large degree, uninformed customers, hapless clients, depoliticized subjects and illiterate citizens incapable of holding corporate and political power accountable. At stake here is more than the dangerous concentration of economic, political and cultural power in the hands of the ultrarich, megacorporations and elite financial services industries. Also at issue is the widespread perversion of the social, critical education, the public good, and democracy itself.

Toward a Radical Imagination

Against the politics of disimagination, progressives, workers, educators, young people and others need to develop a a new language of radical reform and create new public spheres that provide the pedagogical conditions for critical thought, dialogue and thoughtful deliberation. At stake here is a notion of pedagogy that both informs the mind and creates the conditions for modes of agency that are critical, informed, engaged and socially responsible. The radical imagination can be nurtured around the merging of critique and hope, the capacity to connect private troubles with broader social considerations, and the production of alternative formative cultures that provide the precondition for political engagement and for energizing democratic movements for social change – movements willing to think beyond isolated struggles and the limits of a savage global capitalism. Stanley Aronowitz and Peter Bratsis point to such a project in their manifesto on the radical imagination. They write:

This Manifesto looks forward to the creation of a new political Left formation that can overcome fragmentation, and provide a solid basis for many-side interventions in the current economic, political and social crises that afflict people in all walks of life. The Left must once again offer to young people, people of color, women, workers, activists, intellectuals and newly-arrived immigrants places to learn how the capitalist system works in all of its forms of exploitation whether personal, political, or economic. We need to reconstruct a platform to oppose Capital. It must ask in this moment of US global hegemony what are the alternatives to its cruel power over our lives, and those of large portions of the world’s peoples. And the Left formation is needed to offer proposals on how to rebuild a militant, democratic labor movement, strengthen and transform the social movements; and, more generally, provide the opportunity to obtain a broad education that is denied to them by official institutions. We need a political formation dedicated to the proposition that radical theory and practice are inextricably linked, that knowledge without action is impotent, but action without knowledge is blind.[29]

Matters of justice, equality, and political participation are foundational to any functioning democracy, but it is important to recognize that they have to be rooted in a vibrant formative culture in which democracy is understood not just as a political and economic structure but also as a civic force enabling justice, equality and freedom to flourish. While the institutions and practices of a civil society and an aspiring democracy are essential in this project, what must also be present are the principles and modes of civic education and critical engagement that support the very foundations of democratic culture. Central to such a project is the development of a new radical imagination both through the pedagogies and projects of public intellectuals in the academy and through work that can be done in other educational sites, such as the new media. Utilizing the Internet, social media, and other elements of the digital and screen culture, public intellectuals, cultural workers, young people and others can address larger audiences and present the task of challenging diverse forms of oppression, exploitation and exclusion as part of a broader effort to create a radical democracy.

There is a need to invent modes of pedagogy that release the imagination, connect learning to social change and create social relations in which people assume responsibility for each other. Such a pedagogy is not about methods or prepping students to learn how to take tests. Nor is such an education about imposing harsh disciplinary behaviors in the service of a pedagogy of oppression. On the contrary, it is about a moral and political practice capable of enabling students and others to become more knowledgeable while creating the conditions for generating a new vision of the future in which people can recognize themselves, a vision that connects with and speaks to the desires, dreams and hopes of those who are willing to fight for a radical democracy. Americans need to develop a new understanding of civic literacy, education and engagement, one capable of developing a new conversation and a new political project about democracy, inequality, and the redistribution of wealth and power, and how such a discourse can offer the conditions for democratically inspired visions, modes of governance and policymaking. Americans need to embrace and develop modes of civic literacy, critical education and democratic social movements that view the public good as a utopian imaginary, one that harbors a trace and vision of what it means to defend old and new public spheres that offer spaces where dissent can be produced, public values asserted, dialogue made meaningful and critical thought embraced as a noble ideal.

Elements of such a utopian imaginary can be found in James Baldwin’s “Open Letter to My Sister, Angela Davis,” in which he points out that “we live in an age in which silence is not only criminal but suicidal.”[30] The utopian imaginary is also on full display in Martin Luther King Jr.’s “Letter from Birmingham City Jail,” where King states under the weight and harshness of incarceration that an “injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere … [and asks whether we will] be extremists for the preservation of injustice – or will we be extremists for the cause of justice?”[31] According to King, “we must use time creatively, and forever realize that the time is always ripe to do right. Now is the time to make real the promise of democracy.”[32] We hear it in the words of former Harvard University President James B. Conant, who makes an impassioned call for “the need for the American radical – the missing political link between the past and future of this great democratic land.” [33] We hear it in the voices of young people all across the United States – the new American radicals – who are fighting for a society in which justice matters, social protections are guaranteed, equality is insured, and education becomes a right and not an entitlement. The radical imagination waits to be unleashed through social movements in which injustice is put on the run and civic literacy, economic justice, and collective struggle once again become the precondition for agency, hope and the struggle over democracy.

Endnotes

1.
David Theo Goldberg, “Mission Accomplished: Militarizing Social Logic,”in Enrique Jezik: Obstruct, destroy, conceal, ed. Cuauhtémoc Medina (Mexico: Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México, 2011), 183-198.

2.
See, for example, Colin Leys, Market Driven Politics (London: Verso, 2001); Randy Martin, Financialization of Daily Life (Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 2002); Pierre Bourdieu, Firing Back: Against the Tyranny of the Market 2. Trans. Loic Wacquant (New York: The New Press, 2003); Alfredo Saad-Filho and Deborah Johnston, Neoliberalism: A Critical Reader (London: Pluto Press, 2005); Henry A. Giroux, Against the Terror of Neoliberalism (Boulder: Paradigm, 2008); David Harvey, A Brief History of Neoliberalism (New York: Oxford University Press, 2007); Manfred B. Steger and Ravi K. Roy, Neoliberalism: A Very Short Introduction (New York: Oxford University Press, 2010); Gerad Dumenil and Dominique Levy, The Crisis of Neoliberalism (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2011). Henry A. Giroux, Twilight of the Social (Boulder: Paradigm, 2013); Stuart Hall, “The March of the Neoliberals,” The Guardian, (September 12, 2011). online at:http://www.guardian.co.uk/politics/2011/sep/12/march-of-the-neoliberals

3.
See most recently  Kelly V. Vlahos, “Boots on Campus,” Anti War.com (February 26, 2013). On line: http://original.antiwar.com/vlahos/2013/02/25/boots-on-campus/ and David H. Price, Weaponizing Anthropology (Oakland, CA: AK Press, 2011).

3A. Greg Bishop, “A Company that Runs Prisons Will Have its Name on a Stadium,”New York Times (February 19, 2013). Online:http://www.nytimes.com/2013/02/20/sports/ncaafootball/a-company-that-runs-prisons-will-have-its-name-on-a-stadium.html?_r=0

4.
Ibid. Goldberg, pp. 197-198.

5.
Jonathan Schell, “Cruel America”, The Nation, (September 28, 2011) online:http://www.thenation.com/article/163690/cruel-america

6.
Suzi Parker, “Cops Nab 5-Year-Old for Wearing Wrong Color Shoes to School,” Take Part, (January 18, 2013). Online:http://www.takepart.com/article/2013/01/18/cops-nab-five-year-old-wearing-wrong-color-shoes-school

7.
Susan Saulny, “After Recession, More Young Adults Are Living on Street,” The New York Times, (December 18, 2012). Online: http://www.nytimes.com/2012/12/19/us/since-recession-more-young-americans-are-homeless.html?pagewanted=all&_r=0

8.
Suzanne Gamboa and Monika Mathur, “Guns Kill Young Children Daily In The U.S.,” Huffington Post (December 24, 2012). Online:http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/12/24/guns-children_n_2359661.html

9.
John le Carre, “The United States of America Has Gone Mad,” CommonDreams (January 15, 2003). Online: http://www.commondreams.org/views03/0115-01.htm

10.
Eric Mann Interviews Mumbia Abu Jamal, “Mumia Abu Jamal: On his biggest political influences and the political ‘mentacide’ of today’s youth.” Voices from the Frontlines Radio (April 9, 2012).

11.
See, for example, Charles Ferguson, Predator Nation: Corporate Criminals, Political Corruption, and the Hijacking of America (New York: Random House, 2012).

12.
Michael Yates, “The Great Inequality,” Monthly Review, (March 1, 2012).

13.
Ibid.

14.
Guy Standing, The New Precariat: The New Dangerous Class (New York: Bloomsbury, 2011).

15.
Zygmunt Bauman, Liquid Times: Living in an Age of Uncertainty, (Cambridge: Polity Press, 2007).

16.
This issue is taken up brilliantly in Irving Howe, “Reaganism: The Spirit of the Times,” Selected Writings 1950-1990 (New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1990), pp. 410-423.

17.
I take up this issue in detail in Henry A. Giroux, The University in Chains: Challenging the Military-Industrial-Academic Complex (Boulder: Paradigm, 2007).

18.
Aaron B. O’Connell, “The Permanent Militarization of America,” The New York Times, (November 4, 2012). Online:http://www.nytimes.com/2012/11/05/opinion/the-permanent-militarization-of-america.html?pagewanted=all&_r=0

19.
Dominic Tierney, “The F-35: A Weapon that Costs More Than Australia,” The Atlantic (February 13, 2013). Online:http://www.theatlantic.com/national/archive/2011/03/the-f-35-a-weapon-that-costs-more-than-australia/72454/

20.
John Hinkson, “The GFC Has Just Begun,”Arena Magazine 122 (March 2013), p. 51.

21.
Georges Didi-Huberman, Images in Spite of All: Four Photographs from Auschwitz, trans. Shane B. Lillis (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2008), pp. 1-2.

22.
Katherine Stewart, “Is Texas Waging War on History?”AlterNet (May 21, 2012). Online: http://www.alternet.org/story/155515/is_texas_waging_war_on_history

23.
Ibid.

24.
See, for instance, Chris Mooney, The Republican Brain: The Science of Why They Deny Science – and Reality (New York: Wiley, 2012).

25.
Steve Horn, “Three States Pushing ALEC Bill to Require Teachng Climate Change Denial in Schools,”Desmogblog.com (January 31, 2013). Online:www.desmogblog.com/2013/01/31/three-states-pushing-alec-bill-climate-change-denial-schools

26.
Igor Volsky, “Arizona Bill to Force Students to Take a Loyalty Oath,” AlterNet (January 26, 2013).

27.
John Atcheson, “Dark ages Redux: American Politics and the End of the Enlightenment,” CommonDreams (June 18, 2012). Online:https://www.commondreams.org/view/2012/06/18-2

28.
Mark Slouka, “A Quibble,” Harper’s Magazine (February 2009).

29.
Manifesto, Left Turn: An Open Letter to U.S. Radicals, (N.Y.: The Fifteenth Street Manifesto Group, March 2008), pp. 4-5.

30.
James Baldwin, “An Open Letter to My Sister, Miss Angela Davis,” The New York Review of Books, (January 7, 1971). Online: http://www.nybooks.com/articles/archives/1971/jan/07/an-open-letter-to-my-sister-miss-angela-davis/?pagination=false

31.
Martin Luther King, Jr., “Letter from Birmingham City Jail” (1963), in James M. Washington, The Essential Writings and Speeches of Martin Luther King, Jr. (New York: Harper Collins, 1991), pp.290, 298.

32.
Ibid, 296.

33.
James B. Conant, “Wanted: American Radicals”, The Atlantic, May 1943.

Copyright, Truthout. May not be reprinted without permission of the author.

Which Way Did the Taliban Go? (New York Times)

Joël van Houdt for The New York Times. Colonel Daowood, left, considered his next move on the Chak Valley road.

By LUKE MOGELSON

Published: January 17, 2013 96 Comments

The village was abandoned. Streets deserted. Houses empty. Behind the central mosque rose a steep escarpment. Behind the escarpment mountains upon mountains. Up there — above the timberline, among the peaks — a white Taliban flag whipped in the wind. Several Afghan soldiers were admiring it when a stunted and contorted person emerged from an alley. Dressed in rags, he waved a hennaed fist at them and wailed. Tears streamed down his face. Most of the soldiers ignored him. Some laughed uncomfortably. A few jabbed their rifles at his chest and simulated shooting. The man carried on undeterred — reproaching them in strange tongues.

A truck pulled up, and Lt. Col. Mohammad Daowood, the battalion commander, stepped out. Everyone waited to see what he would do. Daowood is a man alive to his environment and adept at adjusting his behavior by severe or subtle degrees. He can transform, instantaneously, from empathetic ally to vicious disciplinarian. To be with him is to be in constant suspense over the direction of his mood. At the same time, there is a calculation to his temper. You feel it is always deliberately, never capriciously, employed. This only adds to his authority and makes it impossible to imagine him in a situation of which he is not the master. A flicker of recognition in the deranged man’s eyes suggested that he intuited this. He approached Daowood almost bashfully; only as he closed within striking range did he seem to regain his lunatic energy, emitting a low, threatening moan. We waited for Daowood to hit him. Instead, Daowood began to clap and sing. Instantly, the man’s face reorganized itself. Tearful indignation became pure, childish joy. He started to dance.

This continued for a surprisingly long time. The commander clapping and singing. The deranged man lost in a kind of ecstatic, whirling performance, waving his prayer cap in the air, stamping his feet. When at last Daowood stopped, the man was his. He stood there — breathless and obsequious — waiting for what came next. Daowood mimed the motion of wrapping a turban on his head. Where are the Taliban? Eager to please, the man beamed and pointed across the valley.

Several hours later, as I shared the bed of a pickup truck with an Afghan soldier who manned a machine gun mounted on the roof of the cab, it became evident that we were lost. The rest of the company was nowhere to be seen, though we could hear them, not far off, exchanging rocket and automatic-weapons fire with insurgents who had fled into the mountains and were hiding behind protective crags, shooting down. The driver sped up one narrow rutted path after another. The paths were hemmed in by rock walls — a labyrinth of cul-de-sacs — and the driver grew more panicked and reckless with each dead end. Aside from the occasional night raid, no Afghan or American forces had been to this place in more than a decade. Men stood on top of the walls, watching.

“Where are we going?” I asked the machine-gunner.

He offered the words I had heard time and again — so often, and so predictably, they could be the battalion motto. The words were invoked in response to such questions as: What is the plan? Who is shooting? Where will we sleep tonight? How many dead?

The words are “Mulam nes” — “It isn’t clear.”

Finally the driver stopped and asked a bearded man in a black turban for directions. The man — a Talib? — kindly pointed the way.

Soon we arrived on a bare ridge and found Colonel Daowood almost alone. Two young soldiers stood nearby with rifles. Daowood sat on a rock. A teenage boy knelt before him, kowtowing, wrists cuffed behind his back. Daowood was doing something to his head. As we got closer, we saw that he held scissors and was roughly shearing the boy’s hair. A neat pile of long black locks lay on the ground between Daowood’s feet.

When Daowood noticed us, he smiled and winked. Then he went back to work, screaming in the boy’s ear, “Now do you like being a Talib?”

“No,” the boy whimpered.

“What?”

“No, no, no.”

Daowood lifted him to his feet and examined with satisfaction the ugly patchwork of uneven tufts and bald scalp. He removed the boy’s handcuffs and said, “Go.”

The boy ran away, forgetting his shoes.

While Daowood was giving the haircut, our driver, who it turned out was a company commander, yelled at a pair of intrepid young soldiers who had taken it upon themselves to scale the mountain and capture the Taliban’s flag. We were leaving soon, and the commander wanted them to come back down. The young soldiers, however, were too high. They couldn’t hear him. The commander yelled and yelled. If only they had radios. If only he had a radio. In lieu of one, the commander drew his sidearm, aimed in the general vicinity of the soldiers, then shot two bullets.

The soldiers ducked, peered down. The commander waved.

It was the third day of a four-day operation being conducted by the Afghan National Army (A.N.A.) in Chak District, Wardak Province. There were no U.S. forces in sight. Every so often, a pair of American attack helicopters circled overhead; otherwise, the Afghans — roughly 400 of them — were on their own. For the A.N.A. — which every day assumes a greater share of responsibility for the security of Afghanistan — the operation was an ambitious undertaking and a test of its ability to function independently. For years now, the U.S. military’s priority in Afghanistan has been shifting from effectively prosecuting the present war to preparing Afghans for a future one in which our role is minimal. But even as American troops return home and American bases across the country close, such a future continues to feel difficult to envision. How will the A.N.A. fare when it is truly on its own? Predictions vary, tending toward the pessimistic. To the extent that assessments of the competency and preparedness of the A.N.A. take into consideration on-the-ground observations, however, they are usually limited to the perspective of American forces working in concert with Afghan units.

After a week with Daowood’s battalion, what I found is that the A.N.A. looks very different when there are no Americans around.

So does the war.

The operation to Chak District was nearly over before it began. Just hours before departure, during a briefing at Combat Outpost Dash-e Towp, the battalion headquarters, Daowood told his subordinate officers: “The only thing we’re waiting on is the fuel. If we don’t receive the fuel, we will not be able to do the operation.” A cohort of American advisers stood in the back of the room, silently listening. In the past, they probably would have offered to provide the fuel themselves. But that paradigm has changed. Increasingly, A.N.A. units must rely on their own supply lines, however inefficient they may be. Nevertheless, as the officers rose from their chairs, an Afghan captain pulled aside one of the advisers and told him the battalion lacked batteries for the metal detectors used to find improvised explosive devices. The adviser sighed. “Come over to our side,” he said, “and we’ll see what we can do.”

The American side of Dash-e Towp is separated from the Afghan side by a tall wall and a door that can be opened only with a code to which the Afghans do not have access. Whereas a close partnership between coalition and Afghan forces was for years considered a cornerstone of the overall military strategy (shohna ba shohna — shoulder to shoulder — went the ubiquitous NATO slogan), recently the Americans have distanced and even sequestered themselves from their erstwhile comrades. The about-face is a response to a rash of insider or “green on blue” attacks that killed more than 60 foreign troops in 2012 (and wounded 94), accounting for 22 percent of all coalition combat deaths. The Americans claim that many of the killings result from cultural differences; the Taliban claim to have infiltrated the security forces; the Afghan government claims “foreign spy agencies” are to blame. Whatever their provenance, the attacks have eroded trust to such a degree that NATO has begun designating some personnel as “guardian angels.” It is the guardian angel’s job to protect the NATO soldier from the Afghan soldier whom it is the NATO soldier’s job to train.

Other concerns abound. When the time comes, for instance, will Afghanistan’s army be able to maintain its own equipment and facilities? Evacuate and treat its own casualties? Overcome ethnic divisions within its ranks? Furnish its units with essential rations like food and fuel? Retain sufficient numbers despite alarmingly high attrition rates? Implement a uniform training doctrine despite alarmingly low literacy rates? Today, according to the Pentagon, exactly one Afghan brigade is capable of operating without any help from the coalition. For better or worse, come Dec. 31, 2014, the other 22 will likely have to do the same.

In anticipation of this reality, the A.N.A. has begun a countrywide realignment of troops that is transforming the battlefield. “Look at the situation,” Gen. Sher Mohamad Karimi, the chief of army staff, told me recently in Kabul. “One hundred and forty thousand international troops, with all the power that they have — the aircraft, the artillery, the tanks, the support — all of that now is going. You cannot expect the Afghan Army to do exactly what the international troops were doing.” As coalition forces diminish, that is, the A.N.A. must decide not only how to fill the gaps but also which gaps to forgo filling. For years, to secure roads and rural areas, Afghan soldiers have manned hundreds of check posts throughout the provinces. Now the A.N.A. plans to relinquish almost all of these in favor of consolidating its forces in significantly fewer locations. General Karimi claims there are two reasons for doing this. First: the Afghans simply lack the wherewithal to keep the more remote posts adequately provisioned. Second: the A.N.A. must move away from defending static positions, toward executing offensive operations. Theoretically, the police will take over check posts as the army quits them. But this will not always be the case; it may seldom be the case. And when vacated posts are not assumed by the police — as has happened in Wardak — it will be hard not to see the ongoing “realignment of troops” as anything other than an old-fashioned retreat.

Chak was one of the first districts in Afghanistan to undergo this change. When Daowood’s battalion woke around 3 a.m. and headed out from Dash-e Towp, the convoy included several large flatbed trailers hauling backhoes and bulldozers that would be used to destroy five of the six A.N.A. check posts in the area. (The last time abandoned posts were left standing in Wardak Province, the Taliban moved into them.) The sun was just starting to rise when the battalion arrived at the first one: a compact fortress of gravel-filled Hesco barriers perched on a squat hill that overlooked the entrance to the district. It was easy to see, from here, why the Taliban liked Chak. Parallel ranges form a wide valley with a river snaking down its middle. Apple orchards and trees with white trunks and bright yellow leaves crowd the basin. Dark canyons branch into the mountains. A single road follows the river deeper into the valley, connecting the lawless foothills of the Hindu Kush to Highway 1, a critical transit route that bridges Kabul and Kandahar, northern and southern Afghanistan.

After being reconstructed by an American firm at an estimated cost of $300 million, Highway 1 was extolled by the U.S. ambassador, in 2005, as “a symbol of Afghan renewal and progress.” Since then it has become one of the most dangerous roads on earth, scarred by bomb blasts, the site of frequent ambushes and executions by insurgent marauders, strewed with the charred carcasses of fuel tankers set alight on their way to NATO bases. As Daowood looked out from the top of the hill, he explained that Chak was an ideal staging ground for attacks on the highway and that the check posts were the only way to protect it. “When we had these check posts, there was good security,” Daowood said. “The people were happy. Of course, when we leave them, the Taliban will come back. As soon as we’re gone, they will own this whole area.”

Already, Daowood said, the road following the river was known to accommodate large quantities of remotely detonated bombs. As the colonel ordered the convoy to start forward, I watched two minesweepers testing out their metal detectors. The devices looked antique: Vietnam-era green with thick black wires connected to bulky plastic headphones. It was the sort of technology that made you remember ham radios, and I confess I was skeptical of their ability to clear the way. But after only a half-mile or so, one of the minesweepers stopped. A skinny, bearded soldier jumped out of a Humvee wielding a pickax. The minesweeper pointed at a spot. The soldier with the pickax attacked it. Soon he called to Daowood: “Found it!”

When C-4 explosive was packed around the bomb and exploded from what was deemed a safe remove, the blast proved much larger than anyone expected. Dirt rained down on those of us who were crouched behind a tree 100 meters away. The crater rendered the road impassable, obliging the Afghans to spend the next half-hour filling it with stones. By the time we started moving again, the minesweepers had begun working on another bomb just around the bend. I found the skinny, bearded soldier standing to the side with his pickax lightly balanced on his shoulder, smoking an immense joint.

His name was Shafiullah. He wore a pair of blue latex medical gloves and a metal helmet several sizes too big that sat low and loose over wide, wild eyes: preternaturally alert eyes bugging from their sockets as if to get a little closer to whatever they were looking at. “Did you see that last one?” Shafiullah wanted to know.

“It was big.”

He nodded rapidly, the helmet bucking forward and backward on his head, now threatening to fly off, now jerked into place by its leather chinstrap.

“Very big! Very nice!” He took another toke, held the doobie upright and became suddenly, deeply engrossed in its glowing tip.

“What are the gloves for?” I asked.

“The human body carries an electrical charge. When you work on the bombs, if you’re not careful, you can ignite them with the electricity in your fingers.”

“Do you always smoke hash before you work on the bombs?”

More vigorous nodding. “It takes away the fear.”

Shafiullah told me he joined the army about five years ago, when he turned 18. He served for three years as a regular infantry soldier in the violent Pakistani border regions before volunteering to become an explosive-ordnance-disposal technician. “I always wanted to be one,” he said. “I love when someone calls me an engineer.” About a year ago, after graduating from a six-month training program taught by French and American soldiers, Shafiullah was deployed to Wardak. Since then, he estimated, he had disposed of roughly 50 bombs. “Thanks to God I’ve never been hurt,” he said.

I asked if any of the other engineers were less fortunate. Shafiullah said that he belonged to a team of 20 technicians and that during the past three months two were killed and eight badly injured. He also said that nine of his friends from the training course were now dead or maimed. Back on the road, one of the minesweepers called for the pickax. Shafiullah took a last drag before joining them. A few minutes later, the valley echoed with a tremendous boom.

The shooting started soon after: rifles, machine guns, rocket-propelled grenades. It was too far ahead to see exactly what was happening. Later I learned that a group of insurgents ambushed the lead element in the convoy, strafing a narrow stretch in the road from within a dense stand of trees. The soldiers responded forcefully — with more and bigger weapons — killing six people in the village where the attack originated. A little while later, not far from the first shootout, there was another. This time an Afghan soldier fired a rocket-propelled grenade at a group of gunmen, killing seven. According to the soldiers, all the dead were Taliban.

By the time I reached the site with Colonel Daowood, the convoy had already moved on, resuming its lurching penetration of the valley. Perhaps not coincidentally, the ambushes occurred near a small gas station that was the target of an American airstrike the night before. The owner of the gas station — a Taliban leader named Gulam Ali, who Daowood said commanded several hundred insurgents in Chak — was killed by a missile. Two old fuel pumps still stood out front, but the row of shops behind them was ruined: windows shattered, charred metal bars curled back like the melted tines of a plastic fork. Each shop offered its own little diorama of destruction. Hundreds of pill bottles scattered on a pharmacy floor; emptied shelves hanging vertically in a general store; an iron and a sewing machine standing improbably upright on a tailor’s wooden table, among burned and tattered rolls of cloth.

Next to the gas station was Gulam Ali’s home and headquarters: an immaculate compound centered on a courtyard with rosebushes and a deep freshwater well. An exterior staircase ascended to the bedroom. Inside I was surprised to find the walls pasted with posters illustrating idyllic scenes from some future civilization, in which sleek modern buildings were harmoniously incorporated into rugged natural landscapes. Or maybe it was Switzerland — hard to say. Either way, it was odd to imagine Gulam Ali privately meditating on them. Nor did the inspirational quotes at the top of each poster lessen the oddness. “We love life,” one italicized blurb instructed, “not because we are used to living, but because we are used to loving.” And, “Even if you are on the right track, you’ll get run over if you just sit there.”

When I returned to the courtyard, Daowood announced that he was going to the village where the 13 insurgents had just been killed. “It’s Gulam Ali’s village,” he explained. “I want to pay my respects.” He headed into the trees with no protection other than the two teenage bodyguards who accompanied him everywhere. He wore no helmet or body armor (“I don’t like them; they give me a headache”), and he carried no weapon. Instead he walked with his hands clasped behind his back, casually flipping a string of turquoise prayer beads. When we reached the compound that belonged to Gulam Ali’s parents, where his relatives had gathered to mourn, Daowood told me to wait outside — the presence of a foreigner would offend the family. When he emerged several minutes later, I was happy to be leaving the place. But as we made our way back to the main road, we encountered dozens of men congregated on a low knoll among the plain stone markers and colored flags of the village graveyard. It was a funeral for the Taliban, and the men regarded us with something less than brotherly affection. Daowood said, “Keep walking.” Then he addressed the funeral. “The aircraft are coming back tonight!” he shouted. “The American Special Forces are coming! Leave this area! Don’t stay here! If you stay, you might get killed!”

Immediately, the ceremony began to scatter, the men fleeing down the slope as swiftly as they could without betraying panic. “The helicopters are coming!” Daowood went on. “The Special Forces will be here soon!”

At the time, the colonel’s prompt dissolution of what appeared to be a potentially dangerous situation seemed to me as deft and inspired as his handling of the deranged man would a couple of days later. But something else was going on as well. Expressing his condolences to Gulam Ali’s family, warning the people about a possible airstrike and night raid — it was all part of Daowood’s game. The more time I spent with him, the clearer it became that Daowood was practicing his own version of counterinsurgency, one that involved endearing himself to locals by characterizing as common enemies not only the Taliban but also the Americans and the Afghan government. In almost every village we visited, I watched Daowood rail against Kabul’s political elite to rapt audiences of disgruntled farmers. Once, in a place known to abet insurgents, the colonel told a crowd: “All the high-ranking officials in the government are thieves. They don’t care about the country, the people. They take money from the foreigners and put it in their pockets. They make themselves fat. They go abroad, sleep in big houses, buy expensive cars and never think about the people. They have done nothing for this country.”

As with Daowood’s occasional flights of rage, it was tough to tell just how much of this was theater and how much true belief. My sense was that Daowood was genuinely conflicted: a committed soldier who spent 10 years of his life in the service of a government he was profoundly disenchanted with. And he wasn’t alone. Most soldiers I spoke to conspicuously avoided expressing any fondness for — much less allegiance to — their government. Of course, this is the same with other soldiers in other armies (imagine a U.S. Marine explaining his compulsion to enlist by citing a feeling of fidelity to the Bush or Obama administrations), but the nascency of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan makes its political leadership and national character uniquely synonymous. Put another way, in a government that has had only one president, you can’t distinguish between corrupt individuals and a broken system. All of which raises the question: In such a country, how can you be both a detractor and a patriot, as Daowood and some of his men seemed clearly to be? The Marine ostensibly fights on behalf of American principles and institutions that transcend elected officials; on behalf of what did the colonel and these soldiers fight? Most of them, when I asked, answered with the word “watan,” or “homeland.” But what does the notion of a homeland mean for someone who has seen his ruled by monarchists, dictators, communists, mujahedeen, Islamic fundamentalists and Karzai?

When it grew dark, we occupied a half-built mud house on the outskirts of a small mountain village, and Colonel Daowood told us his story. The owner of the property had killed a chicken and prepared for us a large pot of soup. Daowood and his entourage huddled around the iridescent mantles of a kerosene lamp, passing the ladle around, hugging their wool field blankets against a near-freezing night.

Daowood’s military career began three decades ago, when he fought the Russians in the tall mountains and narrow valleys of his native Paghman District. After the Soviet-backed government collapsed in 1992, rival mujahedeen groups turned viciously upon one another. While Kabul became the epicenter of a ferocious civil war, Paghman, just 20 minutes west of the city, remained relatively peaceful. Daowood stayed home, preferring not to enter a fray that was decimating the capital and its residents, with no end in sight. But in 1996, when the Taliban entered Kabul and ejected with unexpected ease each of its warring factions, Daowood took his wife and children to Panjshir Valley, an anti-Taliban stronghold where the warlord Ahmed Shah Massoud had retreated in preparation for a longer, harder fight. Although Massoud and his men were Tajiks and Daowood was a Pashtun (the ethnicity of the Taliban) — and although the recent civil war inflamed ethnic animosities — Daowood was received with open arms. Massoud gave his family a house and put Daowood in charge of 100 men.

More war followed for Daowood. Years of land mines and rockets, ambushes and close calls. Years of night operations in the orchards of the vast Shomali Plain — a verdant land between Panjshir and Kabul. Years, finally, of much spilled blood but little ground lost or gained. And then came the year everything changed. When Daowood talks about that time — after he and his comrades routed the Taliban with the help of American air power and special operators — he grins the way you might at a memory of your naïver self. It’s the optimism of those days that both embarrasses and saddens him, the feeling that Afghanistan had been born anew.

Daowood was among the tens of thousands of fighters in the so-called Northern Alliance — a loose confederation of anti-Taliban militias loyal to Massoud and other commanders. Although Massoud himself was assassinated two days before 9/11, his successor, Mohammed Qasim Fahim, supposedly a drug trafficker, was installed as the defense minister for Hamid Karzai’s interim government. Under Fahim, a majority of the Northern Alliance, including Daowood and his 100 men, became the first incarnation of the new Afghan military. While the United States remained committed to the “light footprint” approach championed by Bush and Rumsfeld — eschewing any commitment of resources that might be construed as “nation-building” — Fahim presided over the creation of a force that soon came to resemble the factionalism of the past far more than the nationalism of a future so eagerly anticipated by people like Daowood. As the International Crisis Group put it: “Units became organs of patronage, rewarding allies and supporters with officer commissions. The result was a weak chain of command over a mix of militias plagued by high desertion rates and low operational capacity.”

Whatever power-jockeying and cronyism afflicted the fledgling military, the civilian government under President Karzai was looking even worse. After two years, weary and bitter, Daowood resigned. “It was the corruption,” he explained. “It ruined everything. Everything was destroyed.” While Daowood embraced a new life back in Paghman — managing his family’s land and enjoying the company of his wife and sons — a resurgent Taliban began to exploit a growing disillusionment with the government and a meager deployment of security forces outside the capital. By 2006, there was no denying it: The insurgency had evolved from a lingering nuisance to a legitimate threat.

One day, an old friend from Panjshir, who was serving as a corps commander in the A.N.A., visited Daowood at his farm in Paghman. “We argued a lot,” Daowood recalled. “I didn’t want to be in the army anymore. I didn’t want to fight for this government. When I explained this to him, my friend told me: ‘If good men don’t participate, the criminals will take over. We have to reclaim this country from them.’ ” In the end, Daowood was convinced. Once more he left Paghman. Once more he took up arms.

When Daowood finished his story, I asked whether he really believed that the system was reformable. He thought for a while. Finally, he offered another reason for fighting — one that rang somewhat truer. “The government only steals money,” he told me. “At least they aren’t against education or women or human rights or rule of law.”

The next morning, some soldiers found a Taliban flag and brought it to Daowood. It wasn’t much: Arabic script scrawled in blue ballpoint pen on a square of white bedsheet tied with twine to a stick. Daowood slashed it with his knife and tried setting it on fire. The cloth was slow to catch. While the soldiers fussed with cardboard and kindling, Daowood received a call from the American advisers at Dash-e Towp. They wanted to remind him to begin tearing down the check posts. Daowood was incredulous; he still couldn’t believe it. “What nonsense is this?” he said when he hung up. “Do they want to hand Afghanistan to the Taliban?” The other soldiers looked just as galled. They sullenly watched the flag absorb a green lick of flame, shrivel and burn. “After these check posts are destroyed, we won’t be able to enter this valley,” Daowood said.

All the Afghans in Wardak, it seemed, shared Daowood’s contempt for the decision to close the check posts. When I met with Wardak’s provincial governor, Abdul Majid Khogyani, in Kabul, he told me: “I was a strong opponent of this idea. The police commander of Wardak and the National Directorate of Security chief were also against it. We know this will not work. The result of this strategy is that the Taliban have become stronger. Without the check posts, the Taliban will easily penetrate these areas. And once that happens, it is very difficult to clear them out again.” Majid was convinced that the realignment of troops had been forced on the A.N.A. command by NATO — a suspicion held by many Afghan officers I spoke to. “The local population are asking why NATO would deliberately provide the Taliban with such an opportunity,” the governor said. NATO has declined to comment on its involvement.

In Chak Valley, only one A.N.A. position would remain — the most distant outpost from the highway, manned by a contingent of roughly 100. That afternoon, when the convoy reached this last outpost, a fresh company relieved the bedraggled-looking men who had been stationed there for the past 12 months, collaborating with a U.S. Special Forces team, struggling to gain a foothold. Every one of them painted a similarly bleak picture of near-daily fighting against a more numerous guerrilla army. Mile after mile of mountains and forest was owned wholly by the insurgents. Out in that big wilderness, there was even a Taliban weapons bazaar, where insurgent fighters bought and sold Kalashnikovs and rockets and machine guns and grenades.

The question hovered like a bad smell: How would the Afghan soldiers who remained deep in Chak survive (or perhaps more accurately: What would they be able to accomplish beyond merely surviving?) once every check post between them and Highway 1 was razed? Severing entirely their already embattled position from the foot of the valley would be simple enough. After all, there was only one way in and out. As if to highlight this uncomfortable fact, a local informant called Daowood as soon as the convoy started to make its way back in the direction from which it had come. A number of bombs, the informant warned, were buried somewhere up ahead.

Shafiullah and his team headed to the front, and the procession of Humvees and trucks slowed to a crawl. Right away, the engineers found a copper wire attached to a massive I.E.D. buried two feet underground. A few minutes later, they found another. And then another. As soon as Shafiullah blew up the third bomb, Colonel Daowood’s informant called back to say that there were probably “many more,” though he was uncertain where. By now it was dark, and we still had miles to travel before reaching the relative security of an open area nearer the highway, where the battalion was supposed to bed down. Fifty feet or so ahead of the lead vehicle Shafiullah knelt in the dim beams of the headlights scratching at the dirt with his pickax. After a while there was some hollering and a disorderly hustle toward the rear. The explosion that followed was so powerful that bits of earth lashed our backs in a warm wave.

No one was hurt, and the convoy started forward again. Then it stopped again. While Shafiullah went back to work, I joined a group of soldiers sitting on the remains of an old Soviet tank. Someone produced a joint. The mood was jolly. It turned out the soldiers belonged to the company stationed since last winter at the remotest outpost in Chak. They were glad to be rotating out — even if it meant swapping one deadly place for another. Most of them were Pashtuns from eastern Afghanistan who served for many years and had wives and children to whom they sent their salaries and saw once every several months. The soldiers hoped to get some leave when they returned to Dash-e Towp — but visiting home, they said, was a mission in itself. Stretches of the highway between Dash-e Towp and Kabul were treacherous; many soldiers had been abducted and murdered by insurgents on their way to see their families. In the past you could dress in the traditionalshalwar kameez, hire a taxi and pose as a civilian. But now the Taliban had spies who alerted them when soldiers headed out. The only option was to catch a ride on a convoy, and those could be rare. Recently, the soldiers said, one of their lieutenants lost his infant son to an illness: though he was from Kapisa Province — a short drive north by car — it took him 20 days to get back.

Eventually Shafiullah found and detonated the fourth bomb, and the soldiers on the tank — high as kites by then — returned to the road and continued on. It was 1 in the morning by the time they reached their destination. On the way, they had to stop again and again for Shafiullah’s team to excavate and blow up I.E.D.’s — 11 in total. At some point after midnight the engineers got sloppy, igniting the C-4 on one bomb before Shafiullah could escape the blast radius. The pressure wave collapsed a mud-brick wall he was walking by, crushing his ankle. When I saw Shafiullah the next morning, his pant leg was in tatters and he was limping. His leg looked badly swollen. He hadn’t seen a medic yet and didn’t plan to.

The ground froze solid during the night and Shafiullah — who like most of the men in the battalion was never issued a sleeping bag — got no more than a cold hour’s rest. Nevertheless, while he waited in line to collect his breakfast (a plastic bag containing a hard piece of bread and a boiled egg and a mini-carton of coffee creamer), he seemed in high spirits. “I told you I’d never been hurt before, and now I’m hurt,” Shafiullah said with a laugh. “I was close! But God saved me.”

This was the day that Daowood brought his men up the mountain to a village called Ali Shah and found it deserted except for the deranged man who danced for him. Among the Afghan soldiers, Ali Shah was infamous — an insurgent sanctuary where no government forces had dared to venture in more than a decade. (“Even the women are Taliban!” one sergeant told me.) Daowood had received intelligence that there would be a wedding in the village that day with several insurgent commanders in attendance. He said he wanted to pace the operation to crash the wedding in time for lunch.

When Daowood asked where the Taliban went, the deranged man pointed to a distant hillside where a large group of villagers had gathered outside a mosque. Daowood and his men jumped in their trucks and headed that way. I rode in the back of a Toyota pickup with a middle-aged machine-gunner named Fazil. It turned out that Fazil was the lieutenant the soldiers on the tank had mentioned the night before — the one who had been unable to get home in time for his son’s burial. As we talked, there was something deeply familiar about the way Fazil described his village in Kapisa Province. He might have been a U.S. Marine reminiscing about the family ranch in Texas. The river was wide and clear, bountiful with fish. The people were kind; the air was fresh; the fruit was sweet.

Fazil’s education in the peculiarities of war began when he was 12, during the jihad. One day, while he was with his father and uncle at the local bazaar, a foot patrol of Russian commandos — or Russian soldiers who Fazil assumed were commandos because of the ski masks they were wearing — opened fire on the villagers. Fazil’s uncle bled out and died on the ground in front of him; Fazil’s father also took a bullet but survived. Several years later, a jet from the Soviet-backed government launched a missile at Fazil’s home that killed both of his parents; shortly thereafter, Fazil joined the mujahedeen in Panjshir led by Massoud. During a battle with Soviet fighters, Fazil was shot in the leg and had to be taken to a hospital in Kabul. There the government asked him to switch sides. Fazil agreed and for a year fought for the national army against his former comrades. When I asked how he could volunteer for the same force that killed his parents, Fazil said: “The mujahedeen knew I was with the government the whole time. I was giving them information.” After the government collapsed, Fazil went back to Panjshir and rejoined with Massoud.

This capacity for switching sides, betraying sides, playing sides, often simultaneously, always baffled the foreign forces in Afghanistan. The complex logic of Afghanistan’s ever-shifting allegiances is simply inscrutable to most outsiders; we have never really understood whom we’re fighting or why they’re fighting us. I once went on a mission in a volatile eastern province with a platoon of American soldiers and a member of the U.S. Army’s Human Terrain System — a historian with a doctorate and an assault rifle whose job it was to map which anti-Soviet mujahedeen groups the elders in the area identified with. Some Afghan troops were there as well, and I remember the mystified looks on their faces as this soldier-professor grilled (through an interpreter) one graybeard after another about the commanders they fought under 20 years ago.

Daowood’s method was different. When a fighting-age male struck him as suspicious, the colonel would use his thumbs and index fingers to pull open both of the man’s eyelids. Then he would lean close and stare searchingly. Usually, after several seconds, as though he had suddenly found precisely what he was looking for, Daowood would declare, in mock surprise, “He’s Taliban!”

It was a joke, of course — one that mostly made fun of the Americans. A few years ago, the coalition embarked on an ambitious enterprise to record in an electronic database the biometric information of hundreds of thousands of Afghan citizens, and a hallmark of American patrols has subsequently been the lining up of villagers to digitally register their eyes and fingerprints. Daowood’s faux iris scan was in part an acknowledgment of the A.N.A.’s inferior technology. But it was also a dig at the coalition’s somewhat desperate reliance on technology. Where Daowood’s interactions with villagers were always intimate, it is hard to imagine a more clinical and alienating dynamic between two people than that of the NATO service member aiming his Hand-held Interagency Identity Detection Equipment at the face of a rural Afghan farmer. In such moments, the difference in the field between the U.S. and Afghan soldier is far starker than that of the foreigner and the native. It is more akin to the difference in the ocean between a scuba diver and a fish.

For example: it never occurred to me that Daowood was being entirely serious when he said he wanted to arrive at the wedding in time for lunch. But as soon as we reached the gathering on the hillside in Ali Shah, we were invited into a house and served generous plates of stewed lamb and rice. Daowood dutifully commenced his anti-establishment diatribe, telling me, in a voice loud enough for everyone to hear: “These are good people, all of them. If the government worked for them, if the government helped them, they wouldn’t fight us. The government officials should come to places like this. They know nothing of the people’s lives outside of Kabul.” When one villager added that “the ministers put all the money in their own accounts, they build themselves nice houses and buy nice cars,” Daowood nodded in sympathetic agreement.

Just outside, meanwhile, some soldiers standing guard discovered a canvas sack full of rocket-propelled grenades stashed behind a boulder. A group of men were spotted fleeing into the mountains, and the day’s fighting began.

Late that night, after the rest of the battalion went to sleep, Daowood set off into a Taliban-controlled village on foot, accompanied by four guards. He wanted to meet with a local Talib, who was also a paid informant. He never said so explicitly — “he’s an old friend” and “he gives me information” was all he allowed — but I had the sense this was the man who warned Daowood about the bombs in the road. There was not much of a moon and just enough starlight to see the ground beneath our feet. As we made our way over a steep hill, along a creek, through a field and into winding streets, a chorus of dogs began to howl, and the four soldiers Daowood dragged along grew nervous. “Don’t worry,” Daowood kept telling them. “We’re close.”

When we reached the Talib’s house, a young boy ushered us into a long narrow room dimly lighted by a gas lantern. Pink lace curtains hung over the windows; plush cushions lined the walls; gaudily decorative carpets covered the floor. The informant was a middle-aged man affecting the usual beard and turban. He embraced Daowood and gestured for us to sit. The boy brought tea and then platters of rice and meat and bread. After a while, Daowood said: “We’re closing the check posts tomorrow. We’re pulling out of here.”

“That will be fine,” the man said. “The aircraft were searching here last night.”

“Just stay inside,” Daowood told him.

His phone rang. When he hung up, Daowood announced, “There’s going to be an ambush tomorrow.” And to the informant: “Tomorrow we’re going to search this area.”

The informant nodded. “There won’t be any problem.”

The next day, there was in fact an ambush — even while the bulldozers and backhoes were leveling the check posts. We were heading up a tight canyon, along the banks of a shallow stream, when rockets and machine guns echoed up ahead. By now, most of the soldiers were ragged with fatigue. Over the past four days, they had walked some 30 miles, stayed up shivering through frigid nights, eaten little more than bread and rice. And they had fought and killed people, too. As Daowood rushed ahead at a brisk pace toward the gunfire, we passed one soldier after another sitting on the side of the trail, leaning against a rock, flushed and spent. “Don’t stop!” Daowood urged them. “You’re in the enemy’s country now! Move like a lion!”

And for the most part — even if not exactly lionlike — the soldiers got up and pushed on.

It’s too early to tell what the Afghan National Army will look like on Dec. 31, 2014. No doubt its level of readiness for the uncertain future will vary hugely from region to region, unit to unit. But it is a mistake to dismiss or disparage the Afghan soldier, as is often done by foreigners in Afghanistan. After the ambush (three insurgents were injured; no soldiers), I walked toward the highway, which we could see through the bare trees at the foot of the valley, alongside a young medic from Daykundi Province named Abdul Karim. Like most of the people from Daykundi, Karim was Hazara, one of Afghanistan’s ethnic minorities. Because they follow the Shia branch of Islam, and because their distinct facial features make them easily recognizable, Hazaras are uniquely vulnerable to militant Sunni fundamentalists. In Afghanistan, this has certainly been true with the Taliban, who, during their rise to power, massacred Hazaras by the thousands. “For my people,” Karim told me, “it is important to serve in this army.” Almost all of the men in his family, he said, enlisted as soon as they were old enough. Twenty-eight of Karim’s brothers and cousins wore the uniform.

There might have been a time early in the war when most American soldiers and Marines genuinely believed that they were fighting to protect their homeland, their watan. But those days are over now; they have been for a while. You can feel it just as surely as you can feel that for soldiers like Karim they will never end.

Almost as soon as we got back to Dash-e Towp, I overheard some U.S. officers loudly complaining about the inability of Afghan soldiers to make appointments on time. Afghan soldiers do have difficulty making appointments on time, it’s true. They also don’t like to stand in straight lines or dress according to regulation or march in step or do so many of the things intrinsic to a Western notion of professional soldiering. When a lieutenant calls a formation of Afghan privates to attention, they will inevitably resemble, as my drill sergeant used to say, “a soup sandwich.” But they will also accept a much higher level of risk than any coalition force ever has. Their ranks are filled with tough and brave men who run toward the fight without body armor or helmets or armored vehicles and sleep on the frozen ground without sleeping bags and dig up I.E.D.’s with a pickax and often go hungry and seldom complain.

It was dark by the time Daowood returned to the base; he wanted to be the last man in. When I visited him in his room, he was sitting on the floor, drinking tea. A small TV played quietly in the corner, and as we talked I heard a broadcaster mention the news: yesterday, Barack Obama was re-elected president. I pointed this out to Daowood, who wasn’t much interested. “They’re all the same to us,” he said. Then, seeing I was taking notes, he added, “We just want someone who will help Afghanistan.” But the colonel seemed to know that in the end that job would be his.

Luke Mogelson is a contributing writer for the magazine and a co-editor of Razistan.org. He last wrote about a lawless Afghanistan border town.

Editor: Joel Lovell

A version of this article appeared in print on January 20, 2013, on page MM28 of the Sunday Magazine with the headline: Which Way Did the Taliban Go?.

Henry A. Giroux: Why Don’t Americans Care About Democracy at Home? (Truth-out.org)

Tuesday, 02 October 2012 13:47 – By Henry A GirouxTruthout | Op-Ed

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(Photo: Lance Page / Truthout)“It is certain, in any case, that ignorance, allied with power, is the most ferocious enemy justice can have.”  – James Baldwin

Four decades of neoliberal policies have given way to an economic Darwinism that promotes a politics of cruelty. And its much vaunted ideology is taking over the United States.[1] As a theater of cruelty and mode of public pedagogy, economic Darwinism undermines all forms of solidarity capable of challenging market-driven values and social relations. At the same time, economic Darwinism promotes the virtues of an unbridled individualism that is almost pathological in its disdain for community, social responsibility, public values and the public good. As the welfare state is dismantled and spending is cut to the point where government becomes unrecognizable – except to promote policies that benefit the rich, corporations and the defense industry – the already weakened federal and state governments are increasingly replaced by the harsh realities of the punishing state and what João Biehl has called proliferating “zones of social abandonment” and “terminal exclusion.”[2]

To read more articles by Henry Giroux and other authors in the Public Intellectual Project, click here.

One consequence is that social problems are increasingly criminalized, while social protections are either eliminated or fatally weakened. Another result of this crushing form of economic Darwinism is that it thrives on a kind of social amnesia that erases critical thought, historical analyses and any understanding of broader systemic relations. In this instance, it does the opposite of critical memory work by eliminating those public spheres where people learn to translate private troubles into public issues. That is, it breaks “the link between public agendas and private worries, the very hub of the democratic process.”[3] Once set in motion, economic Darwinism unleashes a mode of thinking in which social problems are reduced to individual flaws and political considerations collapse into the injurious and self-indicting discourse of character. As George Lakoff and Glenn Smith argue, the anti-public philosophy of economic Darwinism makes a parody of democracy by defining freedom as “the liberty to seek one’s own interests and well-being, without being responsible for the interests or well-being of anyone else. It’s a morality of personal, but not social, responsibility. The only freedom you should have is what you can provide for yourself, not what the Public provides for you to start out.”[4] Put simply, we alone become responsible for the problems we confront when we can no longer conceive how larger forces control or constrain our choices and the lives we are destined to lead.

Yet, the harsh values and practices of this new social order are visible – in the increasing incarceration of young people, the modeling of public schools after prisons, state violence waged against peaceful student protesters and state policies that bail out investment bankers but leave the middle and working classes in a state of poverty, despair and insecurity. Such values are also evident in the GOP Social-Darwinist budget plan that rewards the rich and cuts aid for those who need it the most. For instance, the Romney/Ryan budget plan “proposes to cut the taxes of households earning over $1 million by an average of $295,874 a year,”[5] but at a cruel cost to those most disadvantaged populations who rely on social programs. In order to pay for tax reductions that benefit the rich, the Romney/Ryan budget would cut funds for food stamps, Pell grants, health care benefits, unemployment insurance, veterans’ benefits and other crucial social programs.[6] As Paul Krugman has argued, the Ryan budget “isn’t just looking for ways to save money [it’s] also trying to make life harder for the poor – for their own good. In March, explaining his cuts in aid for the unfortunate, [Ryan] declared, ‘We don’t want to turn the safety net into a hammock that lulls able-bodied people into lives of dependency and complacency, that drains them of their will and their incentive to make the most of their lives.'”[7] Krugman rightly replies, “I doubt that Americans forced to rely on unemployment benefits and food stamps in a depressed economy feel that they’re living in a comfortable hammock.”[8] As an extremist version of neoliberalism, Ryanomics is especially vicious towards American children, 16.1 million of whom currently live in poverty. Marian Wright Edelman captures the harshness and savagery of the Ryan budget passed in the House of Representatives. She writes:

Ryanomics is an all out assault on our poorest children while asking not a dime of sacrifice from the richest 2 percent of Americans or from wealthy corporations. Ryanomics slashes hundreds of billions of dollars from child and family nutrition, health, child care, education and child protection services, in order to extend and add to the massive Bush tax cuts for millionaires and billionaires at a taxpayer cost of $5 trillion over 10 years. On top of making the Bush tax cuts permanent, the top income bracket would get an additional 10 percent tax cut. Millionaires and billionaires would on average keep at least an additional quarter of a million dollars each year and possibly as much as $400,000 a year according to the Citizens for Tax Justice.[9]

Under the euphemism of a politics of austerity, we are witnessing not only widespread cuts in vital infrastructures, education and social protections, but also the emergence of policies produced in the spirit of revenge aimed at the poor, the elderly and others marginalized by race and class. As Robert Reich, Charles Ferguson, and a host of recent commentators have pointed out, this extreme concentration of power in every commanding institution of society promotes predatory practices and rewards sociopathic behavior. Such a system creates an authoritarian class of corporate and hedge-fund swindlers that reaps its own profits by

placing big bets with other people’s money. The winners in this system are top Wall Street executives and traders, private-equity managers and hedge-fund moguls, and the losers are most of the rest of us. The system is largely responsible for the greatest concentration of the nation’s income and wealth at the very top since the Gilded Age of the 19th century, with the richest 400 Americans owning as much as the bottom 150 million put together. And these multimillionaires and billionaires are now actively buying the 2012 election – and with it, American democracy.[10]

Unfortunately, the American public has remained largely silent, if not also complicitous with the rise of a neoliberal version of authoritarianism. While young people have started to challenge this politics and machinery of corruption, war, violence and death, they represent a small and marginalized part of the movement that will be necessary to initiate massive collective resistance to the aggressive violence being waged against all those public spheres that further the promise of democracy in the United States. The actions of student protesters and others have been crucial in drawing public attention to the constellation of forces that are pushing the United States into what Hannah Arendt called “dark times.” The questions now being asked must be seen as the first step toward exposing dire social and political costs of concentrating wealth, income and power into the hands of the upper one percent.

Neoliberal Ideology and the Rhetoric of Freedom

In addition to amassing ever expanding amounts of material wealth, the rich now control the means of schooling and education in the United States. They have disinvested in critical education, while reproducing notions of common sense that incessantly replicate the basic values, ideas and relations necessary to sustain the institutions of economic Darwinism. Both parties support educational reforms that increase conceptual illiteracy. Critical learning is now reduced to mastering test-taking, memorizing facts, and learning how not to question knowledge and authority. This type of rote pedagogy, as Zygmunt Bauman points out, is “the most effective prescription for grinding communication to a halt and for [robbing] it of the presumption and expectation of meaningfulness and sense.”[11]

This type of market-driven illiteracy has eviscerated the notion of freedom, turning it largely into the desire to consume and invest exclusively in relationships that serve only one’s individual interests. Citizens are treated by the political and economic elite as restless children and are “invited daily to convert the practice of citizenship into the art of shopping.”[12] Shallow consumerism coupled with an indifference to the needs and suffering of others has produced a politics of disengagement and a culture of moral irresponsibility. Language has been stripped of the terms, phrases and ideas that embrace a concern for the other. With meaning utterly privatized, words are reduced to signifiers that mimic spectacles of violence, designed to provide entertainment rather than thoughtful analysis. Sentiments circulating in the dominant culture parade either idiocy or a survival-of-the-fittest ethic, while anti-public rhetoric strips society of the knowledge and values necessary for the development of a democratically engaged and socially responsible public.

In such circumstances, freedom has truly morphed into its opposite. Neoliberal ideology has construed as pathological any notion that in a healthy society people depend on each other in multiple, complex, direct and indirect ways. As Lewis Lapham points out, “Citizens are no longer held in thoughtful regard … just as thinking and acting are removed from acts of public conscience.”[13] Economic Darwinism has produced a legitimating ideology in which the conditions for critical inquiry, moral responsibility and social and economic justice disappear. The result is that neoliberal ideology increasingly resembles a call to war that turns the principles of democracy against democracy itself. Americans now live in an atomized and pulverized society, “spattered with the debris of broken interhuman bonds”[14] in which “democracy becomes a perishable commodity”[15] and all things public are viewed with disdain. Increasingly, it appears the only bond holding American society together is a perverse collective death-drive.

Neoliberal Governance

At the level of governance, neoliberalism has turned politics into a tawdry form of money laundering in which the spaces and registers that circulate power are controlled by those who have amassed large amounts of capital. Elections, like mainstream politicians, are now bought and sold to the highest bidder. In the Senate and House of Representatives, 47 percent are millionaires and the “estimated median net worth of a current U.S. senator stood at an average of $2.56 million while the median net worth of members of Congress is $913,000.”[16] Elected representatives no longer do the bidding of the people who elect them. Rather, they are now largely influenced by the demands of lobbyists who have enormous clout in promoting the interests of the elite, financial services and mega corporations. Currently, there are just over 14,000 registered lobbyists in Washington, DC, which amounts to approximately 23 lobbyists for every member of Congress. Although the number of lobbyists has steadily increased by about 20 percent since 1998, the Center for Responsive Politics found that “total spending on lobbying the federal government has almost tripled since 1998, to $3.3 billion.”[17] As Bill Moyers and Bernard Weisberger succinctly put it, “A radical minority of the superrich has gained ascendency over politics, buying the policies, laws, tax breaks, subsidies and rules that consolidate a permanent state of vast inequality by which they can further help themselves to America’s wealth and resources.”[18] Democratic governance has been replaced by the sovereignty of the market, paving the way for modes of governance intent on transforming democratic citizens into entrepreneurial agents. The language of the market and business culture have now almost entirely supplanted any celebration of the public good or the calls to enhance civil society characteristic of past generations.

Neoliberal governance has produced an economy and a political system almost entirely controlled by the rich and powerful – what a Citigroup report called a “Plutonomy,” an economy powered by the wealthy.[19] These plutocrats are what I have called the new zombies sucking the resources out of the planet and the rest of us in order to strengthen their grasp on political and economic power and fuel their exorbitant lifestyles. Policies are now enacted that provide massive tax cuts to the rich and generous subsidies to banks and corporations – alongside massive disinvestments in job creation programs, the building of critical infrastructures and the development of crucial social programs, which range from health care to school meal programs for disadvantaged children. In reality, the massive disinvestment in schools, social programs and an aging infrastructure is not about a lack of money. The real problem stems from government priorities that inform both how the money is collected and how it is spent.[20] Over 60 percent of the federal budget goes to military spending, while only 6 percent is allocated toward education. The US spends more than $92 billion on corporate subsidies and only $59 billion on social welfare programs.[21] John Cavanagh has estimated that if there were a tiny tax imposed on Wall Street “stock and derivatives transactions,” the government could raise $150 billion annually.[22] In addition, if the tax code were adjusted in a fair manner to tax the wealthy, another $79 billion could be raised. Finally, Cavanagh points out that $100 billion in tax income is lost annually through tax haven abuse; proper regulation would make it costly for corporations to declare “their profits in overseas tax havens like the Cayman Islands.”[23]

At the same time, the financialization of the economy and culture has resulted in the poisonous growth of monopoly power, predatory lending, abusive credit card practices and misuses of CEO pay. The false but central neoliberal tenet that markets can solve all of society’s problems has no way of limiting the power of money and has given rise to “a politics in which policies that favor the rich … have allowed the financial sector to amass vast economic and political power.”[24] As Joseph Stiglitz points out, there is more at work in this form of governance than a pandering to the wealthy and powerful: There is also the specter of an authoritarian society “where people live in gated communities,” large segments of the population are impoverished or locked up in prison and Americans live in a state of constant fear as they face growing “economic insecurity, health care insecurity [and] a sense of physical insecurity.”[25] In other words, the authoritarian nature of neoliberal political governance and economic power is also visible in the rise of a national security state in which civil liberties are being drastically abridged and violated.

As the war on terror becomes a normalized state of existence, the most basic rights available to American citizens are being shredded. The spirit of revenge, militarization and fear now permeates the discourse of national security. For instance, under Presidents Bush and Obama, the idea of habeas corpus with its guarantee that prisoners have minimal rights has given way to policies of indefinite detention, abductions, targeted assassinations, drone killings and an expanding state surveillance apparatus. The Obama administration has designated 46 inmates for indefinite detention at Guantanamo because, according to the government, they can be neither tried nor safely released. Moreover, another “167 men now confined at Guantanamo … have been cleared for release yet remain at the facility.”[26]

With the passing of the National Defense Authorization Act in 2012, the rule of legal illegalities has been extended to threaten the lives and rights of US citizens. The law authorizes military detention of individuals who are suspected of belonging not only to terrorist groups such as al-Qaeda but to “associated forces.” As Glenn Greenwald points out, this “grants the president the power to indefinitely detain in military custody not only accused terrorists, but also their supporters, all without charges or trial.”[27] The vagueness of the law allows the possibility of subjecting US citizens who are considered in violation of the law to indefinite detention. Of course, that might include journalists, writers, intellectuals and anyone else who might be accused because of their dealings with alleged terrorists. Fortunately, US District Judge Katherine Forrest of New York agreed with Chris Hedges, Noam Chomsky and other writers who have challenged the legality of the law. Judge Forrest recently acknowledged the unconstitutionality of the law and ruled in favor of a preliminary barring of the enforcement of the National Defense Authorization Act.[28]

The anti-democratic practices at work in the Obama administration also include the US government’s use of state secrecy to provide a cover or prevent being embarrassed by practices that range from the illegal use of torture to the abduction of innocent foreign nationals. Under the rubric of national security, a shadow state has emerged that eschews transparency and commits unlawful acts. Given the power of the government to engage in a range of illegalities and to make them disappear through an appeal to state secrecy, it should come as no surprise that warrantless wiretapping, justified in the name of national security, is on the rise at both the federal and state levels. For instance, the New York City Police Department “implemented surveillance programs that violate the civil liberties of that city’s Muslim-American citizens [by infiltrating] mosques and universities [and] collecting information on individuals suspected of no crimes.”[29] And the American public barely acknowledged this shocking abuse of power. Such anti-democratic policies and practices have become the new norm in American society and reveal a frightening and dangerous move toward a 21st century version of authoritarianism.

Neoliberalism as the New Lingua Franca of Cruelty

The harsh realities of a society defined by the imperatives of punishment, cruelty, militarism, secrecy and exclusion can also be seen in the emergence of a growing rhetoric of insult, humiliation and slander. Teachers are referred to as welfare queens by right-wing pundits; conservative radio host Rush Limbaugh claimed that Michael J. Fox was “faking” the symptoms of Parkinson’s disease when he appeared in a political ad for Democrat Claire McCaskill; and the public is routinely treated to racist comments, slurs and insults about Barack Obama by a host of shock jocks, politicians and even one federal judge.[30] Poverty is not only seen as a personal failing, it has become the object of abuse, fear and loathing. Poor people, rather than poverty, are now the problem, because the poor, as right-wing ideologues never fail to remind us, are lazy (and after all how could they be poor since they own TVs and cell phones). Racism, cruelty, insults and the discourse of humiliation are now packaged in a mindless rhetoric that is as unapologetic as it is ruthless – and has become the new lingua franca of public exchange.

Republican Presidential candidate Mitt Romney echoed the harshness of the new lingua franca of cruelty when asked recently about the government’s responsibility to 50 million Americans who don’t have health insurance. Incredibly, Romney said they already have access to health care because they can go to hospital emergency rooms. In response, a New York Times editorial pointed out that emergency room care “is the most expensive and least effective way of providing care” and such a remark “reeks of contempt for those left behind by the current insurance system, suggesting that they must suffer with illness until the point where they need an ambulance.”[31] Indifferent to the health care needs of the poor and middle class, Romney also conveniently forgets that, as indicated in a Harvard University study, “more than 62 percent of all personal bankruptcies are caused by the cost of overwhelming medical expenses.”[32] The new lingua franca of cruelty and its politics of disposability are on full display here. To paraphrase Hannah Arendt, we live in a time when revenge has become the cure-all for most of our social and economic ills.

Neoliberalism and the Retreat from Ethical Considerations

Not only does neoliberal rationality believe in the ability of markets to solve all problems, it also removes economics and markets from ethical considerations. Economic growth, rather than social needs, drives politics. Long-term investments are replaced by short-term gains and profits, while compassion is viewed as a weakness and democratic public values are scorned because they subordinate market considerations to the common good. As the language of privatization, deregulation and commodification replaces the discourse of social responsibility, all things public – including public schools, libraries, transportation systems, crucial infrastructures and public services – are viewed either as a drain on the market or as a pathology.[33] Greed is now championed because it allegedly drives innovation and creates jobs. Massive disparities in income and wealth are celebrated as a justification for embracing a survival-of-the-fittest ethic and paying homage to a ruthless mode of unbridled individualism.

Morality in this instance becomes empty, stripped of any obligations to the other. How else to explain Mitt Romney’s gaffe caught on video in which he derided “47 percent of the people [who] will vote for the president no matter what?”[34] There was more at work here than what some have called “the killing of the American dream” or simply a cynical political admission by Romney that some voting blocs do not matter. [35]Romney’s comments about those 47 percent of adult Americans who don’t pay income taxes for one reason or another, whom he described as “people who believe that they are victims, who believe the government has a responsibility to care for them, who believe that they are entitled to health care, to food, to housing, to you-name-it,”[36] makes clear that a politics of disposability is central to the extreme right-wing philosophy of those who control the Congress and are vying for the presidency. Paul Krugman is on target in arguing that in spite of massive suffering caused by the economic recession – a recession that produced “once-unthinkable levels of economic distress” – there is “growing evidence that our governing elite just doesn’t care.”[37] Of course, Krugman is not suggesting that if the corporate and financial elite cared the predatory nature of capitalism would be transformed. Rather, he is suggesting that economic Darwinism leaves no room for compassion or ethical considerations, which makes it use of power much worse than more liberal models of a market-based society.

Politics of Disposability and the Breakdown of American Democracy

The not-so-hidden order of politics underlying the second Gilded Age and its heartless version of economic Darwinism is that some populations, primarily the elderly, young people, the unemployed, immigrants and poor whites and minorities of color, now constitute a form of human waste or excess. The politics of disposability delineates these populations as unworthy of investment or of sharing in the rights, benefits and protections of a substantive democracy.[38] What is particularly disturbing is how little opposition among there is among the American public to this view of particular social groups as disposable – this, perhaps more than anything else, signals the presence of a rising authoritarianism in the United States. Left unchecked, economic Darwinism will not only destroy the social fabric and undermine democracy; it will also ensure the marginalization and eventual elimination of those intellectuals willing to fight for public values, rights, spaces and institutions not wedded to the logic of privatization, commodification, deregulation, militarization, hyper-masculinity and a ruthless “competitive struggle in which only the fittest could survive.”[39] Clearly, this new politics of disposability and culture of cruelty will wreak destruction in ways not yet imaginable, despite the horrific outcomes of the economic and financial crisis brought on by economic Darwinism. All evidence suggests a new reality is unfolding, one that is characterized by a deeply rooted crisis of education, agency and social responsibility.

Under such circumstances, to paraphrase C. Wright Mills, we are seeing the breakdown of democracy, the disappearance of critical intellectuals, and “the collapse of those public spheres which offer a sense of critical agency and social imagination.”[40] Since the 1970s, we have witnessed the forces of market fundamentalism attempt to strip education of its public values, critical content and civic responsibilities as part of a broader goal to create new subjects wedded to the logic of privatization, efficiency, flexibility, consumerism and the destruction of the social state. Today, neoliberalism’s ascendency has made the educational force of culture toxic, while educational institutions – whether in public or higher education – have all but transformed from promoting the public good to affirming private interests.

Encountering an onslaught of neoliberal ideology from all sides, it becomes increasingly difficult for the larger public to hold on to ideas that affirm social justice, community and those public values central to the cultural and political life of an aspiring democracy. Within both formal education and the educational force of the broader cultural apparatus – with its networks of knowledge production in the old and new media – we are witnessing the emergence and dominance of a powerful and ruthless market-driven notion of politics, governance, teaching, learning, freedom, agency and responsibility. Such modes of education do not foster a sense of organized responsibility central to a healthy democracy. Instead, they foster what I have referred to in the past as a sense of organized irresponsibility – a practice that underlies the economic Darwinism, public pedagogy and corruption at the heart of both the current recession and American politics.

Beyond Neoliberal Mis-Education

The anti-democratic practices that drive free-market fundamentalism are increasingly evident in the neoliberal framing of public and higher education as a corporate-based sector that embraces commodifying the curriculum, supporting top-down management, implementing more courses that promote business values and reducing all spheres of education to job training sites. As universities turn toward corporate management models, they increasingly use and exploit cheap faculty labor. In fact, many colleges and universities are drawing more and more upon adjunct and non-tenured faculty, many of whom occupy the status of indentured servants who are overworked, lack benefits, receive little or no support and are paid salaries that qualify them for food stamps.[41] Students are buried under huge debts that are celebrated by the debt collection industry that is cashing in on their misfortune. Jerry Aston, one member of the industry, wrote in a column after witnessing a protest rally by students criticizing their mounting debt that “I couldn’t believe the accumulated wealth they represent – for our industry.”[42]

There is more at work here than infusing market values into every aspect of higher education. There is also a full-fledged assault on the very notion of public goods, democratic public spheres and the role of education in creating an informed citizenry. When Rick Santorum argued that intellectuals were not wanted in the Republican Party, he was mimicking what has become common sense in a society wedded to narrow instrumental values and various modes of fundamentalism. Critical thinking and a literate public have become dangerous to those who want to celebrate orthodoxy over dialogue, emotion over reason and ideological certainty over thoughtfulness. Hannah Arendt’s warning that “it was not stupidity but a curious, quite authentic inability to think”[43] at the heart of authoritarian regimes is now embraced as a fundamental tenet of Republican Party politics.

In the United States, many of the problems in higher education can be linked to low funding, the domination of universities by market mechanisms, the rise of for-profit colleges, the intrusion of the national security state and the lack of faculty self-governance, all of which not only contradicts the culture and democratic value of higher education, but also makes a mockery of the very meaning and mission of the university. Decreased financial support for higher education stands in sharp contrast to increased support for tax benefits for the rich, financial industries and corporations. Rather than strengthen civic imagination among students, public universities are wedded more and more to the logic of profitability, to producing students as useful machines and to a form of education that promotes a “technically trained docility.”[44]

Universities and colleges have been largely abandoned as democratic public spheres dedicated to providing a public service, expanding upon humankind’s great intellectual and cultural achievements and educating future generations to be able to confront the challenges of a global democracy. As a core political and civic institution, higher education rarely appears any longer to be committed to addressing important social problems. Instead, many universities and colleges have become unapologetic accomplices to corporate values and power, and in doing so increasingly make social problems either irrelevant or invisible. Just as democracy appears to be fading in the United States, so is the legacy of higher education’s faith in and commitment to democracy.

Unfortunately, one measure of this disinvestment in higher education as a public good can be seen in the fact that many states such as California are spending more on prisons than on higher education.[45] Educating low income and poor minorities to be engaged citizens has been undermined by an unholy alliance of law-and-order conservatives, private prison corporations and prison guard unions along with the rise of the punishing state, all of whom have more of a vested interest in locking people up than educating them. It is no coincidence that as the US disinvests in the institutions fundamental to a democracy, it has invested heavily in those apparatuses that propel the rise of the prison-industrial complex and the punishing-surveillance state. The social costs of prioritizing punishing over education is clear in one shocking statistic provided by a recent study that stated “by age 23, almost a third of Americans or 30.2 percent have been arrested for a crime…. Researchers say [this] is a measure of growing exposure to the criminal justice system in everyday life.”[46]

The assault on the university is symptomatic of the deep educational and political crisis facing the United States. It is but one lens through which to recognize that the future of democracy depends on achieving the educational and ethical standards of the society we inhabit.[47] Political, moral, and social indifference is the result, in part, of a public that is increasingly constituted within an educational landscape that reduces thinking to a burden and celebrates civic illiteracy as foundational for negotiating a society in which moral disengagement and political corruption go hand in hand.[48]

This collapse on the part of the American public into a political and moral coma is induced, in part, by an ever expanding mass mediated celebrity culture that trades in hype and sensation. It is also accentuated by a governmental apparatus that sanctions modes of training that undermine any viable notion of critical schooling and public pedagogy. While there is much being written about how unfair the left is to the Obama administration, what is often forgotten by these liberal critics is that Obama has virtually aligned himself with educational practices and policies that are as instrumentalist and anti-intellectual as they are politically reactionary and therein lies one viable reason for not supporting his candidacy.[49]What liberals refuse to entertain is that the left is correct in attacking Obama for his cowardly retreat from a number of progressive issues and his dastardly undermining of civil liberties. In fact, they do not go far enough in their criticisms. Often even progressives miss that Obama’s views on what type of formative educational culture is necessary to create critically engaged and socially responsible citizens is utterly reactionary and provides no space for the nurturance of a radically democratic imagination. Hence, while liberals point to some of Obama’s progressive policies – often in a new age discourse that betrays their own supine moralism – in making a case for his re-election, they fail to acknowledge that Obama’s educational policies do nothing to contest, and are aligned with, his weak-willed compromises and authoritarian policies. In other words, Obama’s educational commitments undermine the creation of a formative culture capable of questioning authoritarian ideas, modes of governance and reactionary policies. The question is not whether he is slightly less repugnant than Romney. On the contrary, it is about how the left should engage politics in a more robust and democratic way by imagining what it would mean to work collectively and with “slow impatience” for a new political order outside of the current moderate and extreme right-wing politics and the debased, uncritical educational apparatus that supports it.

The Role of Critical Education

One way of challenging the new authoritarianism is to reclaim the relationship between critical education and social change. Education both in and out of schools is the bedrock for the formative culture necessary to create not only a literate public but also a public willing to fight for its capacity to hold power accountable and to participate in the decisions and institutions that shape its everyday existence. The question of what kind of subjects and modes of individual and social agency are necessary for a democracy to survive appears more crucial now than ever before, and this is a question that places matters of education, pedagogy and culture at the center of any understanding of politics. We live at a time when the American people appear to have no interest in democracy – beyond the four-year ritual performance of voting, and even this act fails to attract a robust majority of citizens. The term has been emptied of any viable meaning, hijacked by political scoundrels, corporate elites and the advertising industry. The passion that democracy exhibits as an ongoing struggle for rights, justice and a future of hope has been transmuted into a misplaced desire to shop, fulfill the pleasure quotient in spectacles of violence and misappropriate the language of democracy to deploy it as a rationale for racist actions against immigrants, Muslims and poor minorities of color and class.

Clearly, as the Occupy Movement and other youth movements around the world have demonstrated, the time has come not only to redefine the promise of democracy but also to challenge those who have poisoned its meaning. We have already witnessed such a challenge by protest movements both at home and abroad in which the struggle over education has become one of the most powerful fulcrums for addressing the detrimental effects of neoliberalism. What these struggles, particularly by young people, have in common is the attempt to merge the powers of persuasion and critical, civic literacy with the power of social movements to activate and mobilize real change. They are recovering a notion of the social and reclaiming a kind of humanity that should inspire and inform our collective willingness to imagine what a real democracy might look like. The political philosopher, Cornelius Castoriadis, rightly argues that “people need to be educated for democracy by not only expanding the capacities that enable them to assume public responsibility but also through active participation in the very process of governing.”[50] The current attack on democracy is directly linked to a systemic destruction of all those public spheres that expand the power of the imagination, critical inquiry, thoughtful exchange and the formative culture that makes critical education and an engaged citizenry dangerous to fundamentalists of all ideological stripes.

As the crucial lens through which to create the formative culture in which politics and power can be made visible and held accountable, pedagogy plays a central role. But as Archon Fung points out, criticism is not the only public responsibility of intellectuals, artists, journalists, educators and others who engage in critical pedagogical practices. “Intellectuals can also join citizens – and sometimes governments – to construct a world that is more just and democratic. One such constructive role is aiding popular movements and organizations in their efforts to advance justice and democracy.”[51] In this instance, understanding must be linked to the practice of social responsibility and the willingness to fashion a politics that addresses real problems and enacts concrete solutions. As Heather Gautney points out:

We need to start thinking seriously about what kind of political system we really want. And we need to start pressing for things that our politicians did not discuss at the conventions. Real solutions – like universal education, debt forgiveness, wealth redistribution and participatory political structures – that would empower us to decide together what’s best. Not who’s best.[52]

Critical thinking divorced from action is often as sterile as action divorced from critical theory. Given the urgency of the historical moment, we need a politics and a public pedagogy which make knowledge meaningful in order to make it critical and transformative. Or as Stuart Hall argues, we need to produce modes of analyses and knowledge in which “people can invest something of themselves … something that they recognize is of them or speaks to their condition.”[53]

I want to conclude by quoting from James Baldwin, a courageous writer who refused to let the hope of democracy die in his lifetime and who offered that mix of politics, passion and courage that deserves not just admiration but emulation. His sense of rage was grounded in a working-class sensibility, eloquence and passion that illuminates a higher standard for what it means to be a public intellectual and an engaged intellectual. His words capture something that is missing from the American cultural and political landscape, something affirmative that needs to be seized upon, rethought, and occupied – as part of both the fight against the new authoritarianism and its cynical, dangerous and cruel practices, and the struggle to reclaim a notion of justice and mutuality that seems to be dying in all of us. In “The Fire Next Time,” Baldwin writes:

One must say Yes to life, and embrace it wherever it is found – and it is found in terrible places…. For nothing is fixed, forever and forever, it is not fixed; the earth is always shifting, the light is always changing, the sea does not cease to grind down rock. Generations do not cease to be born, and we are responsible to them because we are the only witnesses they have. The sea rises, the light fails, lovers cling to each other and children cling to us. The moment we cease to hold each other, the moment we break faith with one another, the sea engulfs us and the light goes out.

 

1.
Manfred B. Steger and Ravi K. Roy, [i]Neoliberalism: A Very Short Introduction,[/i] (Oxford University Press, 2010). Juliet B. Schor,[i] Plenitude: The New Economics of True Wealth[/i](New York: Penguin Press, 2010); Henry A. Giroux, [i]Against the Terror of Neoliberalism[/i] (Boulder: Paradigm, 2008); David Harvey,[i] A Brief History of Neoliberalism[/i] (New York: Oxford Press, 2005); John and Jean Comaroff, eds. [i]Millennial Capitalism and the Culture of Neoliberalism[/i]  (Durham: Duke University Press, 2001). On the moral limits and failings of neoliberalism, see Michael J. Sandel, [i] What Money Can’t Buy[/i] (New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2012) and for positing a case for neoliberalism as a criminal enterprise, see Jeff Madrick,[i] Age of Greed: The Triumph of Finance and the Decline of America, 1970 to the Present [/i](New York: Vintage, 2011); Charles Ferguson, [i]Predator Nation [/i](New York: Crown Business, 2012); Henry A. Giroux, [i]Zombie Politics in the Age of Casino Capitalism[/i] (New York: Peter Lang, 2010).

2.
João Biehl, [i]Vita: Life in a Zone of Social Abandonment [/i](Los Angeles: University of California Press, 2005). These zones are also brilliantly analyzed in Chris Hedges and Joe Sacco, [i]Days of Destruction, Days of Revolt [/i](New York: Knopf, 2012).

3.
Zygmunt Bauman,”Does ‘Democracy’ Still Mean Anything? (And in Case It Does, What Is It?)” [i]Truthout [/i](January 21, 2011). Online: http://truth-out.org/index.php?option=com_k2&;view=item&id=73:does-democracy-still-mean-anything-and-in-case-it-does-what-is-it

4.
George Lakoff and Glenn W. G Smith, “Romney, Ryan and the Devil’s Budget,” The Berkeley Blog (August 23, 2012). Online: http://blogs.berkeley.edu/2012/08/23/romney-ryan-and-the-devils-budget-will-america-keep-its-soul/

 

5.
Robert Reich,”Mitt Romney and the New Gilded Age” [i]Truthout [/i](July 2, 2012). Online: http://truth-out.org/news/item/10109-mitt-romney-and-the-new-gilded-age

6.
David Theo Goldberg, “The Taxing Terms of the GOP Plan Invite Class Carnage,” (September 20, 2012). Online: http://truth-out.org/news/item/11630-the-taxing-terms-of-the-gop-plan-invite-class-carnage

7.
Paul Krugman,”Galt, gold and God,” [i]The New York Times, [/i](August 23, 2012), p. A25.

8. Ibid.

9.
 Marian Wright Edelman,”Ryanomics Assault on Poor and Hungry Children,” [i]Huffington Post [/i](September 14, 2012). Online: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/marian-wright-edelman/ryanomics-assault-on-poor_b_1885851.html

10. Reich,”Mitt Romney and the New Gilded Age,”http://robertreich.org/post/26229451132; Charles Ferguson, [i]Predatory Nation: Corporate Criminals, Political Corruption, and the Hijacking of America [/i](New York: Crown Business, 2012); Daisy Grewal,”How Wealth Reduces Compassion: As Riches Grow, Empathy for Others Seems to Decline,”[i] Scientific American[/i](April 10, 2012). Online: http://www.scientificamerican.com/article.cfm?id=how-wealth-reduces-compassion

11.
Bauman,”Does ‘Democracy’ Still Mean Anything?”

12.
Lewis H. Lapham,”Feast of Fools: How American Democracy Became the Property of a Commercial Oligarchy,” [i]Truthout[/i] (September 20, 2012). Online: http://truth-out.org/opinion/item/11656-feast-of-fools-how-american-democracy-became-the-property-of-a-commercial-oligarchy

13.
Ibid.

14.
Zygmunt Bauman, [i]This is Not a Diary[/i] (Cambridge: Polity Press, 2012), p. 102.

15. Lapham,”Feast of Fools,” http://truth-out.org/opinion/item/11656-feast-of-fools-how-american-democracy-became-the-property-of-a-commercial-oligarchy

16. Eric Lichtblau,”Economic Downturn Took a Detour at Capitol Hill,” [i]The New York Times[/i] (December 26, 2011). Online:http://www.nytimes.com/2011/12/27/us/politics/economic-slide-took-a-detour-at-capitol-hill.html?pagewanted=all

17. Peter Grier,”So Much Money, So Few Lobbyists in D.C.: How Does the Math Work?” [i]DC Decoder[/i] (February 24, 2012). Online:http://www.csmonitor.com/USA/DC-Decoder/Decoder-Wire/2012/0224/So-much-money-so-few-lobbyists-in-D.C.-How-does-that-math-work

18.
Bill Moyers and Bernard Weisberger,”Money in Politics: Where is the Outrage?” [i]Huffington Post [/i](August 30, 2012). Online:http://www.huffingtonpost.com/bill-moyers/money-in-politics_b_1840173.html

19.
It is difficult to access this study because Citigroup does its best to make it disappear from the Internet. See the discussion of it by Noam Chomsky in”Plutonomy and the Precariat: On the History of the U.S. Economy in Decline,”[i] Truthdig [/i](May 8, 2012). Online:http://www.truthdig.com/report/item/plutonomy_and_the_precariat_the_history_of_the_us_economy_in_decline_201205/

20.
Salvatore Babones,”To End the Jobs Recession, Invest an Extra $20 Billion in Public Education,” [i]Truthout [/i](August 21, 2012). Online: http://truth-out.org/opinion/item/11031-to-end-the-jobs-recession-invest-an-extra-$20-billion-in-public-education

21.
John Atcheson,”The Real Welfare Problem: Government Giveaways to the Corporate 1%,” [i]Common  Dreams [/i](September 3, 2012). Online:http://www.commondreams.org/view/2012/09/03-7

22.
John Cavanagh,”Seven Ways to End the Deficit (Without Throwing Grandma Under the Bus),” [i]Yes! Magazine [/i](September 7, 2012). Online: http://www.yesmagazine.org/new-economy/seven-ways-to-end-the-deficit-without-throwing-grandma-under-the-bus

23.
Ibid.

24.
Joseph Stiglitz,”Politics Is at the Root of the Problem,” [i]European Magazine[/i](April 23, 2012). Online:

http://theeuropean-magazine.com/633-stiglitz-joseph/634-austerity-and-a-new-recession

25.
Lynn Parramore,”Exclusive Interview: Joseph Stiglitz Sees Terrifying Future for America If We Don’t Reverse Inequality,” [i]AlterNet [/i](June 24, 2012). Online:

http://www.alternet.org/economy/155918/exclusive_interview%3A_joseph_stiglitz_sees_terrifying_future_for_america_if_we_don%27t_reverse_inequality

26.
Editorial,”America’s Detainee Problem,” [i]Los Angeles Times [/i](September 23, 2012). Online: http://articles.latimes.com/2012/sep/23/opinion/la-ed-detention-20120923

27.
Glenn Greenwald,”Unlike Afghan Leaders, Obama Fights for Power of Indefinite Military Detention,” [i]The Guardian[/i] (September 18, 2012). Online:http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2012/sep/18/obama-appeals-ndaa-detention-law. See also, Glenn Greenwald,”Federal Court Enjoins NDAA,” [i]Salon[/i] (May 16, 2012). Online:http://www.salon.com/2012/05/16/federal_court_enjoins_ndaa/ . See also, Henry A. Giroux, [i]Hearts of Darkness: Torturing Children in the War on Terror[/i](BoulderParadigm 2010).

28.
Charlie Savage,”Judge Rules against Law on Indefinite Detention,” [i]New York Times [/i](September 12, 2012). Online:http://www.nytimes.com/2012/09/13/us/judge-blocks-controversial-indefinite-detention-law.html?_r=0

29.
Karen J. Greenberg,”Ever More and Ever Less,” [i]TomDispatch[/i] (March 18, 2012). Online:

http://www.tomdispatch.com/archive/175517/

30.
Catherine Poe,”Federal Judge Emails Racist Joke about President Obama,” [i]Washington Times [/i](March 1, 2012). Online:http://communities.washingtontimes.com/neighborhood/ad-lib/2012/mar/1/federal-judge-emails-racist-joke-about-president-o/

31.
Editorial,”Why Romney Is Slipping,” [i]New York Times[/i] (September 25, 2012), p. A20.

32.
Brennan Keller,”Medical Expenses: Top Cause of Bankruptcy in the United States,” [i]Give Forward[/i] (October 13, 2011). Online:http://www.giveforward.com/blog/medical-expenses-top-cause-of-bankruptcy-in-the-united-states

33.
George Lakoff and Glenn W. G Smith,”Romney, Ryan and the Devil’s Budget,” [i]Berkeley Blog [/i](August 23, 2012). Online: http://blogs.berkeley.edu/2012/08/23/romney-ryan-and-the-devils-budget-will-america-keep-its-soul/

34.
David Corn, “Secret Video: Romney Tells Millionaire Donors What He Really Thinks of Obama Voters,” [i]Mother Jones[/i] (September 17, 2012). Online:http://www.motherjones.com/politics/2012/09/secret-video-romney-private-fundraiser

35.
Naomi Wolf,”How the Mitt Romney Video Killed the American Dream,” [i]The Guardian [/i](September 21, 2012). Online:http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2012/sep/21/mitt-romney-video-killed-american-dream?newsfeed=true

36.
Corn,”Secret Video,” http://www.motherjones.com/politics/2012/09/secret-video-romney-private-fundraiser

37.
Paul Krugman,”Defining Prosperity Down,” [i]New York Times [/i](August 1, 2010), p. A17.

38.
Zygmunt Bauman is the most important theorist writing about the politics of disposability.  Among his many books, see [i]Wasted Lives [/i](London: Polity Press, 2004).

39.
Robert Reich,”The Rebirth of Social Darwinism,” [i]Robert Reich’s Blog[/i](November 30, 2011). Online: http://robertreich.org/post/13567144944

40.
 
C. Wright Mills, [i]The Politics of Truth: Selected Writings of C. Wright Mills [/i](New York:OxfordUniversity Press, 2008), p. 200.

41.
Hart Research Associates, [i]American Academics: Survey of Part Time and Adjunct Higher Education Faculty[/i] (Washington, D.C.: AFT, 2011). Online:http://www.aft.org/pdfs/highered/aa_partimefaculty0310.pdfSteve Street, Maria Maisto, Esther Merves, and Gary  Rhoades, [i]Who Is Professor “Staff” and How Can This Person Teach So Many Classes?[/i] (Los Angeles: Center for the Future of Higher Education, 2012). Online:http://futureofhighered.org/uploads/ProfStaffFinal.pdf

42.
Andrew Martin and Andrew W. Lehren,”A Generation Hobbled by the Soaring Cost of College,” [i]New York Times [/i](May 12, 2012), p. A1.

43.
Cited in Richard J. Bernstein, [i]The Abuse of Evil: The Corruption of Politics and Religion since 9/11[/i] (London: Polity Press, 2005), pp. 7-8.

44.
Martha C. Nussbaum,[i] Not For Profit: Why Democracy Needs The Humanities[/i](New Jersey:PrincetonUniversity Press, 2010), p. 142.

45. Les Leopold,”Crazy Country: 6 Reasons America Spends More on Prisons Than On Higher Education,” [i]Alternet[/i] (August 27, 2012). Online http://www.alternet.org/education/crazy-country-6-reasons-america-spends-more-prisons-higher-education?paging=off. On this issue, see also the classic work by Angela Y. Davis, [i]Are Prisons Obsolete?[/i] (New York: Open Media, 2003); and Michelle Alexander, [i]The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness [/i](New York: New Press, 2012).

46.
Erica Goode,”Many in U.S. Are Arrested by Age 23, Study Finds,” New York Times(December 19, 2011), p. A15.

47.
Zygmunt Bauman,[i] The Individualized Society[/i] (London: Polity, 2001), p. 4.

48.
Leopold,”Crazy Country,” http://www.alternet.org/education/crazy-country-6-reasons-america-spends-more-prisons-higher-education?paging=off

49. See, for instance, Rebecca Solnit,”Rain on Our Parade: A Letter to the Dismal Left,” [i]TomDispatch.com[/i] (September 27, 2012). Online:http://www.tomdispatch.com/blog/175598/tomgram%3A_rebecca_solnit,_we_could_be_heroes/ TomDispatch refers to this article as a call for hope over despair. It should be labeled as a call for accommodation over the need for a radical democratic politics.  For an alternative to this politics of accommodation, see the work of Stanley Aronowitz, Chris Hedges, Henry Giroux, Noam Chomsky, and others.

50.
Cornelius Castoriadis,”Democracy as Procedure and Democracy as Regime,” [i]Constellations [/i]4:1 (1997), p. 5.

51.
Archon Fung,”The Constructive Responsibility of Intellectuals,” [i]Boston Review[/i](September 9, 2011). Online: http://www.bostonreview.net/BR36.5/archon_fung_noam_chomsky_responsibility_of_intellectuals.php

52.
Heather Gautney,”Why Do Political Elites All Hate Democracy?”[i] LA Progressive[/i] (September 19, 2012). Online: http://www.laprogressive.com/hate-democracy

53.
Stuart Hall and Les Back,”In Conversation: At Home and Not at Home,” [i]Cultural Studies[/i] Vol. 23, No. 4 (July 2009), p. 681.

14 Wacky “Facts” Kids Will Learn in Louisiana’s Voucher Schools (Mother Jones)

—By Deanna Pan | Tue Aug. 7, 2012 3:00 AM PDT

God Bless Our SchoolSeparation of church and what? Currier & Ives/Library of Congress

Thanks to a new law privatizing public education in Louisiana, Bible-based curriculum can now indoctrinate young, pliant minds with the good news of the Lord—all on the state taxpayers’ dime.

Under Gov. Bobby Jindal’s voucher program, considered the most sweeping in the country, Louisiana is poised to spend tens of millions of dollars to help poor and middle-class students from the state’s notoriously terrible public schools receive a private education. While the governor’s plan sounds great in the glittery parlance of the state’s PR machine, the program is rife with accountability problems that actually haven’t been solved by the new standards the Louisiana Department of Education adopted two weeks ago.

For one, of the 119 (mostly Christian) participating schools, Zack Kopplin, a gutsy college sophomore who’s taken to Change.org to stonewall the program, has identified at least 19that teach or champion creationist nonscience and will rake in nearly $4 million in public funding from the initial round of voucher designations.

Many of these schools, Kopplin notes, rely on Pensacola-based A Beka Book curriculum or Bob Jones University Press textbooks to teach their pupils Bible-based “facts,” such as the existence ofNessie the Loch Ness Monster and all sorts of pseudoscience that researcher Rachel Tabachnick and writer Thomas Vinciguerra have thankfully pored over so the rest of world doesn’t have to.

Here are some of my favorite lessons:

1. Dinosaurs and humans probably hung out: “Bible-believing Christians cannot accept any evolutionary interpretation. Dinosaurs and humans were definitely on the earth at the same time and may have even lived side by side within the past few thousand years.”—Life Science, 3rd ed., Bob Jones University Press, 2007

Much like Whoopi and Teddy in the cinematic classic Theodore Rex. Screenshot: YouTube

Much like tough cop Katie Coltrane and Teddy the T-rex in the direct-to-video hit Theodore Rex Screenshot: YouTube

2. Dragons were totally real: “[Is] it possible that a fire-breathing animal really existed? Today some scientists are saying yes. They have found large chambers in certain dinosaur skulls…The large skull chambers could have contained special chemical-producing glands. When the animal forced the chemicals out of its mouth or nose, these substances may have combined and produced fire and smoke.”—Life Science, 3rd ed., Bob Jones University Press, 2007

3“God used the Trail of Tears to bring many Indians to Christ.”—America: Land That I Love, Teacher ed., A Beka Book, 1994

4. Africa needs religion: “Africa is a continent with many needs. It is still in need of the gospel…Only about ten percent of Africans can read and write. In some areas the mission schools have been shut down by Communists who have taken over the government.”—Old World History and Geography in Christian Perspective, 3rd ed., A Beka Book, 2004

The literacy rate in Africa is "only about 10 percent"--give or take a few dozen percentage points. residentevil_stars2001/Flickr

The literacy rate in Africa is “only about 10 percent”…give or take a few dozen percentage pointsresidentevil_stars2001/Flickr

5. Slave masters were nice guys: “A few slave holders were undeniably cruel. Examples of slaves beaten to death were not common, neither were they unknown. The majority of slave holders treated their slaves well.”—United States History for Christian Schools, 2nd ed., Bob Jones University Press, 1991

Slaves and their masters: BFF 4lyfe!  Edward Williams Clay/Library of Congress

Doesn’t everyone look happy?! Edward Williams Clay/Library of Congress

6. The KKK was A-OK: “[The Ku Klux] Klan in some areas of the country tried to be a means of reform, fighting the decline in morality and using the symbol of the cross. Klan targets were bootleggers, wife-beaters, and immoral movies. In some communities it achieved a certain respectability as it worked with politicians.”—United States History for Christian Schools, 3rd ed., Bob Jones University Press, 2001

Just your friendly neighborhood Imperial Wizard! Unknown/Library of Congress

Just your friendly neighborhood Imperial Wizard Unknown/Library of Congress

7. The Great Depression wasn’t as bad as the liberals made it sound: “Perhaps the best known work of propaganda to come from the Depression was John Steinbeck’s The Grapes of Wrath…Other forms of propaganda included rumors of mortgage foreclosures, mass evictions, and hunger riots and exaggerated statistics representing the number of unemployed and homeless people in America.”—United States History: Heritage of Freedom, 2nd ed., A Beka Book, 1996

Definitely Photoshopped.  U.S. National Archives and Records Administration/Wikipedia

Definitely Photoshopped. U.S. National Archives and Records Administration/Wikipedia

8. SCOTUS enslaved fetuses: “Ignoring 3,500 years of Judeo-Christian civilization, religion, morality, and law, the Burger Court held that an unborn child was not a living person but rather the “property” of the mother (much like slaves were considered property in the 1857 case of Dred Scott v. Sandford).”—American Government in Christian Perspective, 2nd ed., A Beka Book, 1997

9. The Red Scare isn’t over yet: “It is no wonder that Satan hates the family and has hurled his venom against it in the form of Communism.”— American Government in Christian Perspective, 2nd ed., A Beka Book, 1997

Meanwhile, God sneezes glitter snot in the form of Capitalism. Catechetical Guild/Wikipedia

Catechetical Guild/Wikipedia

10. Mark Twain and Emily Dickinson were a couple of hacks: “[Mark] Twain’s outlook was both self-centered and ultimately hopeless…Twain’s skepticism was clearly not the honest questioning of a seeker of truth but the deliberate defiance of a confessed rebel.”—Elements of Literature for Christian Schools, Bob Jones University, 2001

“Several of [Emily Dickinson’s] poems show a presumptuous attitude concerning her eternal destiny and a veiled disrespect for authority in general. Throughout her life she viewed salvation as a gamble, not a certainty. Although she did view the Bible as a source of poetic inspiration, she never accepted it as an inerrant guide to life.”—Elements of Literature for Christian Schools, Bob Jones University, 2001

And her grammar was just despicable! Ugh! Todd-Bingham picture collection, 1837-1966 (inclusive)/ Manuscripts & Archives, Yale University

To say nothing of her poetry’s Syntax and Punctuation—how odious it is.Todd-Bingham picture collection, 1837-1966 (inclusive)/ Manuscripts & Archives, Yale University

11. Abstract algebra is too dang complicated: “Unlike the ‘modern math’ theorists, who believe that mathematics is a creation of man and thus arbitrary and relative, A Beka Bookteaches that the laws of mathematics are a creation of God and thus absolute…A Beka Bookprovides attractive, legible, and workable traditional mathematics texts that are not burdened with modern theories such as set theory.”—ABeka.com

Maths is hard! Screenshot: MittRomney.com

MATHS: Y U SO HARD? Screenshot: MittRomney.com

12Gay people “have no more claims to special rights than child molesters or rapists.”—Teacher’s Resource Guide to Current Events for Christian Schools, 1998-1999, Bob Jones University Press, 1998

13. “Global environmentalists have said and written enough to leave no doubt that their goal is to destroy the prosperous economies of the world’s richest nations.”Economics: Work and Prosperity in Christian Perspective, 2nd ed., A Beka Book, 1999

Plotting world destruction, BRB.  Lynn Freeny, Department of Energy/Flickr

Plotting economic apocalypse, BRB Lynn Freeny, Department of Energy/Flickr

14. Globalization is a precursor to rapture: “But instead of this world unification ushering in an age of prosperity and peace, as most globalists believe it will, it will be a time of unimaginable human suffering as recorded in God’s Word. The Anti-christ will tightly regulate who may buy and sell.”—Economics: Work and Prosperity in Christian Perspective, 2nd ed., A Beka Book, 1999

He'll probably be in cahoots with the global environmentalists. Luca Signorelli/Wikipedia

Swapping insider-trading secrets is the devil’s favorite pastime. Luca Signorelli/WikipediaWhew! Seems extreme. But perhaps we shouldn’t be too surprised. Gov. Jindal, you remember,once tried to perform an exorcism on a college gal pal.

The War on Suicide? (Time)

Monday, July 23, 2012

By NANCY GIBBS; MARK THOMPSON

Leslie McCaddon sensed that the enemy had returned when she overheard her husband on the phone with their 8-year-old daughter. “Do me a favor,” he told the little girl. “Give your mommy a hug and tell her that I love her.”

She knew for certain when she got his message a few minutes later. “This is the hardest e-mail I’ve ever written,” Dr. Michael McCaddon wrote. “Please always tell my children how much I love them, and most importantly, never, ever let them find out how I died … I love you. Mike”

She grabbed a phone, sounded every alarm, but by the time his co-workers found his body hanging in the hospital call room, it was too late.

Leslie knew her husband, an Army doctor, had battled depression for years. For Rebecca Morrison, the news came more suddenly. The wife of an AH-64 Apache helicopter pilot, she was just beginning to reckon with her husband Ian’s stress and strain. Rebecca urged Ian to see the flight surgeon, call the Pentagon’s crisis hotline. He did–and waited on the line for more than 45 minutes. His final text to his wife: “STILL on hold.” Rebecca found him that night in their bedroom. He had shot himself in the neck.

Grand Praire, TX. Rebecca Morrison with some of her husband Ian’s belongings in her parents homes. Ian, an AH-64 Apache Helicopter pilot in the U.S. Army committed suicide on March 21, 2012. Ian chose ‘Ike’ for Rebecca. Peter van Agtmael/Magnum for TIME.

Both Army captains died on March 21, a continent apart. The next day, and the next day, and the next, more soldiers would die by their own hand, one every day on average, about as many as are dying on the battlefield. These are active-duty personnel, still under the military’s control and protection. Among all veterans, a suicide occurs every 80 minutes, round the clock.

Have suicides spiked because of the strain of fighting two wars? Morrison flew 70 missions in Iraq over nine months but never engaged the enemy directly. McCaddon was an ob-gyn resident at an Army hospital in Hawaii who had never been to Iraq or Afghanistan. Do the pride and protocols of a warrior culture keep service members from seeking therapy? In the three days before he died, Morrison went looking for help six times, all in vain. When Leslie McCaddon alerted commanders about her husband’s anguish, it was dismissed as the result of a lovers’ quarrel; she, not the Army, was the problem.

This is the ultimate asymmetrical war, and the Pentagon is losing. “This issue–suicides–is perhaps the most frustrating challenge that I’ve come across since becoming Secretary of Defense,” Leon Panetta said June 22. The U.S. military seldom meets an enemy it cannot target, cannot crush, cannot put a fence around or drive a tank across. But it has not been able to defeat or contain the epidemic of suicides among its troops, even as the wars wind down and the evidence mounts that the problem has become dire. While veterans account for about 10% of all U.S. adults, they account for 20% of U.S. suicides. Well trained, highly disciplined, bonded to their comrades, soldiers used to be less likely than civilians to kill themselves–but not anymore.

More U.S. military personnel have died by suicide since the war in Afghanistan began than have died fighting there. The rate jumped 80% from 2004 to 2008, and while it leveled off in 2010 and 2011, it has soared 18% this year. Suicide has passed road accidents as the leading noncombat cause of death among U.S. troops. While it’s hard to come by historical data on military suicides–the Army has been keeping suicide statistics only since the early 1980s–there’s no denying that the current numbers constitute a crisis.

The specific triggers for suicide are unique to each service member. The stresses layered on by war–the frequent deployments, the often brutal choices, the loss of comrades, the family separation–play a role. So do battle injuries, especially traumatic brain injury and posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD). And the constant presence of pain and death can lessen one’s fear of them.

But combat trauma alone can’t account for the trend. Nearly a third of the suicides from 2005 to 2010 were among troops who had never deployed; 43% had deployed only once. Only 8.5% had deployed three or four times. Enlisted service members are more likely to kill themselves than officers, and 18-to-24-year-olds more likely than older troops. Two-thirds do it by gunshot; 1 in 5 hangs himself. And it’s almost always him: nearly 95% of cases are male. A majority are married.

No program, outreach or initiative has worked against the surge in Army suicides, and no one knows why nothing works. The Pentagon allocates about $2 billion–nearly 4% of its $53 billion annual medical bill–to mental health. That simply isn’t enough money, says Peter Chiarelli, who recently retired as the Army’s second in command. And those who seek help are often treated too briefly.

Army officials declined to discuss specific cases. But Kim Ruocco directs suicideprevention programs at the nonprofit Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors, or TAPS. She knows what Leslie McCaddon and Rebecca Morrison have endured; her husband, Marine Major John Ruocco, an AH-1 Cobra helicopter-gunship pilot, hanged himself in 2005. These were highly valued, well-educated officers with families, with futures, with few visible wounds or scars; whatever one imagines might be driving the military suicide rate, it defies easy explanation. “I was with them within hours of the deaths,” Ruocco says of the two new Army widows. “I experienced it through their eyes.” Their stories, she says, are true. And they are telling them now, they say, because someone has to start asking the right questions.

The Bomb Grunt

Michael McCaddon was an Army brat born into a uniquely edgy corner of the service: his father served in an ordnance-disposal unit, and after his parents divorced, his mother married another bomb-squad member. McCaddon entered the family business, enlisting at 17. “When I joined the Army I was 5’10” and weighed 129 lbs,” he blogged years later. “I had a great body … for a girl.” But basic training made him stronger and tougher; he pushed to get the top scores on physical-fitness tests; he took up skydiving, snorkeling, hiking. If you plan to specialize in a field in which a single mistake can cost you and your comrades their lives, it helps to have high standards. “Ever since I was new to the Army, I made it my personal goal to do as well as I can,” he recalled. “I thought of it as kind of a representation of my being, my honor, who I was.”

The Army trained him to take apart bombs. He and his team were among the first on the scene of the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing, combing the ruins for any other devices, and he traveled occasionally to help the Secret Service protect then First Lady Hillary Clinton. He met Leslie in 1994 during a break in her college psychology studies. They started dating, sometimes across continents–he did two tours in Bosnia. During a Stateside break in January 2001, he married Leslie in Rancho Santa Fe, Calif. They had three children in four years, and McCaddon, by then an active-duty officer, moved with his family to Vilseck, Germany, where he helped run an Army dental office.

He was still ambitious–two of Leslie’s pregnancies had been difficult, so he decided to apply to the military’s medical school and specialize in obstetrics. But then, while he was back in Washington for his interview, came a living nightmare: his oldest son, who was 3, was diagnosed with leukemia. Just before entering med school, McCaddon prepared for his son’s chemotherapy by shaving his head in solidarity so the little boy wouldn’t feel so strange. McCaddon may not have been a warrior, but he was a fighter. “I became known as a hard-charger,” he wrote. “I was given difficult tasks, and moved through the ranks quickly.” He pushed people who didn’t give 100%; he pushed himself.

The Apache Pilot

Ian Morrison was born at Camp Lejeune in North Carolina, son of a Marine. An honor student at Thomas McKean High School in Wilmington, Del., he sang in the chorus, ran cross-country and was a co-captain of the swimming team before heading to West Point. He had a wicked sense of humor and a sweet soul; he met Rebecca on a Christian singles website in 2006 and spent three months charming her over the phone. One night he gave her his credit-card information. “Buy me a ticket, because I’m going to come see you,” he told her before flying to Houston. “The minute I picked him up,” she recalls, “we later said we both knew it was the real deal.” He proposed at West Point when she flew in for his graduation.

Morrison spent the next two years at Fort Rucker in Alabama, learning to fly the two-seat, 165-m.p.h. Apache helicopter, the Army’s most lethal aircraft. He and his roommate, fellow West Pointer Sean McBride, divided their time among training, Walmart, church, Seinfeld and video games, fueled by macaroni and cheese with chopped-up hot dogs. Morrison and Rebecca were married two days after Christmas 2008 near Dallas. The Army assigned him to an aviation unit at Fort Hood, so they bought a three-bedroom house on an acre of land just outside the town of Copperas Cove, Texas. They supported six African children through World Vision and were planning to have some kids of their own. “We had named our kids,” Rebecca says.

Morrison was surprised when the Army ordered him to Iraq on short notice late in 2010. Like all young Army officers, he saluted and began packing.

Triggers and Traps

One theory of suicide holds that people who feel useful, who feel as if they belong and serve a larger cause, are less likely to kill themselves. That would explain why active-duty troops historically had lower suicide rates than civilians. But now experts who study the patterns wonder whether prolonged service during wartime may weaken that protective function.

Service members who have bonded with their units, sharing important duties, can have trouble once they are at a post back home, away from the routines and rituals that arise in a close-knit company. The isolation often increases once troops leave active duty or National Guardsmen and reservists return to their parallel lives. The military frequently cites relationship issues as a predecessor to suicides; that irritates survivors to no end. “I’m not as quick to blame the Army as the Army is to blame me,” Leslie McCaddon says. “The message I get from the Army is that our marital problems caused Mike to kill himself. But they never ask why there were marriage problems to begin with.”

As McCaddon made his way through med school in Maryland, he encountered ghosts from his past. He was reaching the age at which his biological father had died by suicide, which statistically increased his own risk. But he wasn’t scared by it, Leslie says; he told associates about it. What did bother him was that he was gaining weight, the physical-training tests were getting harder for him, and the course work was challenging to juggle with a young family. He hid the strain, “but inside it is killing me,” he blogged. He called Leslie a hero “for not kicking me out of the house on the several times I’ve given her reason.” And he told her he sometimes thought of suicide.

“But he would tell everyone else that he was fine,” Leslie says. “He was afraid they’d kick him out of medical school if he was really honest about how depressed he was.” McCaddon sought counseling from a retired Army psychiatrist and seemed to be turning a corner in May 2010, when he graduated and got his first choice for a residency, at Tripler Army Medical Center in Honolulu.

“He loved being a soldier,” Leslie said, “and he was going to do everything he could to protect that relationship.”

Leslie had relationships to protect as well. He was increasingly hard on her at home; he was also hard on the kids and on himself. “He was always an amazing father–he loved his children–but he started lashing out at them,” Leslie recalls. “He wasn’t getting enough sleep, and he was under a lot of stress.” Leslie began exploring options but very, very carefully; she had a bomb-disposal problem as well. “When I was reaching out for help, people were saying, Be careful how you phrase this, because it could affect your husband’s career,” she says. “That was terrifying to me. It made me think that by advocating for him I’d be making things worse.”

The Pilot’s Pain

Captain Morrison headed to Iraq in early 2011. Once there, he and Rebecca Skyped nearly every day between his flight assignments. When he took R&R leave in early September, they visited family in Dallas, then San Antonio, and caught concerts by Def Leppard and Heart.

There were no signs of trouble. “He was so mentally stable–he worked out every day, we ate good food, and we always had good communication,” his wife says. “Most people would say he was kind of quiet, but with me he was loud and obnoxious and open.”

Morrison never engaged the enemy in direct combat; still, some 70 missions over Iraq took their toll. His base was routinely mortared. After one mission, he and several other pilots were walking back to their hangar when a rocket shot right past them and almost hit him; he and his comrades ran and dived into a bunker, he told Rebecca once he was safely home. He impressed his commander–“Excellent performance!” his superior raved in a formal review of the man his buddies called Captain Brad Pitt. “Unlimited potential … continue to place in position of greater responsibility.”

It was not the war that turned out to be hard; it was the peace. Morrison returned to Fort Hood late last year and spent his month off with Rebecca riding their horses, attending church and working out. He seemed unnerved by slack time at home. “He said it was really easy to fall into a routine in Iraq–they got up at the exact same time, they ate, they worked out, they flew forever and then they came back, and he’d talk to me, and then they did it all over again,” Rebecca says. “When he came back to Texas, it was really difficult for him to adjust.”

Morrison was due to be reassigned, so he and his wife needed to sell their house, but it just sat on the market. His anxiety grew; he was restless, unable to sleep, and they thought he might be suffering from PTSD. The couple agreed that he should see a doctor. Military wives, especially those studying mental health, have heard the stories, know the risks, learn the questions: Is their spouse drinking more, driving recklessly, withdrawing from friends, feeling trapped? Be direct, they are told. “I looked him right in the face and asked, ‘Do you feel like you want to hurt or kill yourself?'” Rebecca recalls. “He looked me right in the face and said, ‘Absolutely not–no way–I don’t feel like that at all. All I want to do is figure out how to stop this anxiety.'”

The Stigma

When troops return from deployment, they are required to do self-assessments of their experience: Did they see people killed during their tour? Did they feel they had been at risk of dying? Were they interested in getting counseling for stress or alcohol use or other issues? But a 2008 study found that when soldiers answer questions anonymously, they are two to four times as likely to report depression or suicidal thoughts. Independent investigations have turned up reports of soldiers being told by commanders to airbrush their answers or else risk their careers. A report by the Center for a New American Security cited commanders who refuse to grant a military burial after a suicide for fear that doing so would “endorse or glamorize” it.

The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) and all the services have launched resiliency-training programs and emergency hotlines, offering slogans like “Never leave a Marine behind” and “Never let your buddy fight alone” that try to speak the language of the unit. Last year the Pentagon released a video game meant to allow soldiers to explore the causes and symptoms of PTSD from the privacy of their homes. “We want people to feel like they are encouraged to get help,” says Jackie Garrick, who runs the new Defense Suicide Prevention Office. “There are a myriad of ways you can access help and support if you need it.”

But faith in that commitment was shaken this year when Army Major General Dana Pittard, commander of the 1st Armored Division at Fort Bliss, Texas, complained on his official blog that he was “personally fed up” with “absolutely selfish” troops who kill themselves, leaving him and others to “clean up their mess. Be an adult, act like an adult, and deal with your real-life problems like the rest of us,” he continued. He later said he wanted to “retract” what he called his “hurtful statement,” but he didn’t apologize for what he said. Many soldiers and family members believe Pittard’s attitude is salted throughout the U.S. military.

Just a Lovers’ Quarrel

In August 2010, Leslie went to McCaddon’s commanding officer at the hospital. She didn’t tell Michael. “It was the scariest thing I’ve ever done,” she says. She recalls sitting in the commander’s office, haltingly laying out her concerns–McCaddon’s history of depression, his struggle to meet his high standards while doing right by his family. She was hoping that maybe the commander would order him into counseling and defuse the stigma somehow: he’d just be following orders. She watched the officer, a female colonel, detonate before her eyes. “No one at the medical school told me he had a history of depression, of being suicidal,” Leslie recalls her shouting. “I have a right to know this. He’s one of my residents. Why didn’t anyone tell me?” The commander was furious–not at Leslie, exactly, but at finding herself not in command of the facts.

The colonel called several colleagues into the room and then summoned McCaddon as well. Leslie registered the shock and fear on his face when he saw his wife sitting with his bosses. “I was shaking,” she says. “I told him I continued to be concerned that his depression was affecting our family and that I was really concerned for his safety but also for the well-being of our children and myself.”

The commander encouraged McCaddon to get help but wouldn’t order him to do it. He left the room, livid, and Leslie burst into tears. “Honey, don’t worry,” Leslie remembers the commander saying. “My first marriage was a wreck too.”

Can’t you make him get some help? Leslie pleaded again, but the colonel pushed back. McCaddon was doing fine at work, with no signs of a problem. “‘Leslie, I know this is going to be hard to hear, but this just doesn’t sound like an Army issue to me,'” McCaddon’s wife recalls the colonel saying. “‘It sounds like a family issue to me.'” Leslie felt her blood run cold. “No one was going to believe me so long as things were going fine at work.”

McCaddon did try to see an Army psychiatrist, but a month or more could pass without his finding the time. “I’d say, ‘He’s in the Army,'” Leslie recalls telling the doctor, “‘and you make him do everything else, so you should be able to make him go to mental-health counseling.'” But McCaddon was not about to detour from rounds to lie on the couch. He barely ate while on his shift. “Everybody here is under stress,” he stormed at Leslie. “I can’t just walk out for an hour a week–I’m not going to leave them when we’re already short-staffed.”

The marriage was cracking. Back in Massachusetts, Leslie’s mother was not well. Leslie and the kids moved home so she could take care of her. She and Michael talked about divorce.

The Waiting Room

Early on Monday, March 19, Ian Morrison showed up at a Fort Hood health clinic, where he sat waiting in his uniform, with his aviation badge, for three hours. Finally someone saw him. “‘I’m sorry you had to wait all this time,'” Rebecca says he was told. “‘But we can’t see you. We can’t prescribe you anything.'” He had to see the doctor assigned to his unit. When Morrison arrived at the flight surgeon’s office, he told Rebecca, the doctor was upset that Morrison hadn’t shown up at the regular daily sick call a couple of hours earlier.

“He told me this guy was so dismissive and rude to him. ‘You need to follow procedure. You should have been here hours ago,'” Rebecca says. “Ian wanted to tell the doctor he was anxious, depressed and couldn’t sleep, but this guy shut him down.” Morrison acknowledged only his sleeplessness, leading the doctor to give him 10 sleeping pills with orders to return the next week. He’d be grounded for the time being.

But that didn’t seem to affect his mood. Morrison toasted his wife’s success on a big exam that day–she was close to earning her master’s in psychology–by cooking a steak dinner and drawing a bubble bath for her that night. “He was dancing around and playing music and celebrating for me,” she remembers. “He seemed really hopeful.” He took a pill before bed but told Rebecca in the morning that he hadn’t slept.

On Tuesday, March 20, Morrison tried to enroll in an Army sleep study but was told he couldn’t join for a month. “Well, I’ll just keep taking Ambien and then go see the flight surgeon,” he told the woman involved with the study. She asked if he felt like hurting himself. “No, ma’am, you don’t have to worry about me at all,” he said. “I would never do that.” That day, Morrison typed an entry in his journal: “These are the things I know that I can’t change: whether or not the house sells, the state of the economy, and the world … these are things that I know to be true: I’m going to be alive tomorrow, I will continue to breathe and get through this, and God is sovereign over my life.”

Rebecca awoke the next morning to find her husband doing yoga. “I’m self-medicating,” he told her. She knew what that meant. “You couldn’t sleep again, huh?” Rebecca asked.

“No,” Morrison said. “I’m going back to the doctor today.” Given the lack of success with the medication, she told him that was probably a good idea. She left the house, heading for the elementary school on post where she taught second grade.

A System Overwhelmed

The Army reported in January that there was no way to tell how well its suicide-prevention programs were working, but it estimated that without such interventions, the number of suicides could have been four times as high. Since 2009, the Pentagon’s ranks of mental-health professionals have grown by 35%, nearing 10,000. But there is a national shortage of such personnel, which means the Army is competing with the VA and other services–not to mention the civilian world–to hire the people it needs. The Army has only 80% of the psychiatrists and 88% of the social workers and behavioral-health nurses recommended by the VA. Frequent moves from post to post mean that soldiers change therapists often, if they can find one, and mental-health records are not always transferred.

Military mental-health professionals complain that the Army seemed to have put its suicide-prevention efforts on the back burner after Chiarelli, a suicide fighter, left the service in January. “My husband did not want to die,” Rebecca says. “Ian tried to get help–six times in all … Think about all the guys who don’t even try to get help because of the stigma. Ian was so past the stigma, he didn’t care. He just wanted to be healthy.”

The Breaking Point

On March 15, McCaddon gave a medical presentation that got rave reviews. Then he called Massachusetts to speak to his children and sent Leslie that last e-mail. He regretted his failures as a husband, as a father. Don’t tell the children how I died, he begged her. “Know that I love you and my biggest regret in life will always be failing to cherish that, and instead forsaking it.” Leslie read the e-mail in horror. “In the back of my mind, I’m saying to myself, He’s at work–he’s safe,” she recalls. “It never occurred to me that he would do what he did at work.” But she immediately dialed the hospital’s delivery center. She had just received a suicide note from her husband, she told the doctor who answered, and they needed to find him immediately. The hospital staff fanned out.

“They’ve sent people to the roof, the basement, to your house. We’re looking everywhere,” a midwife told Leslie in a call minutes later. As they talked, Leslie suddenly heard people screaming and crying in the background. Then she heard them call a Code Blue. They had found him hanging from a noose in a call room. It had been less than 30 minutes since McCaddon had sent his final e-mail to his wife. Among the voices Leslie thought she recognized was that of McCaddon’s commander, whose words came rushing back. “Does it seem like a family issue to her now?” Leslie remembers thinking. “Because it looks like it happened on her watch.”

It took 15 minutes for the first responders to bring back a heartbeat. By then he had been without oxygen for too long. Leslie flew to Hawaii, and Captain McCaddon was taken off life support late Tuesday, March 20. He was pronounced dead early the next day.

That same day, Wednesday, March 21, Morrison saw a different Army doctor, who in a single 20-minute session diagnosed him with clinical depression. He got prescriptions for an antidepressant and a med to treat anxiety but hadn’t taken either when he called his wife. Rebecca encouraged him to stop by the resiliency center on post to see if he might get some mental-health counseling there. Just before noon, Morrison texted Rebecca, saying he was “Hopeful :)” about it. She wanted to know what they told him. “Will have to come back,” he responded. “Wait is about 2 hrs.” He needed to get back to his office.

Rebecca was still concerned. At about 4 p.m., she urged her husband to call a military hotline that boasted, “Immediate help 24/7–contact a consultant now.” He promised he would. “I said, ‘Perfect. Call them, and I’ll talk to you later,'” Rebecca says. “He was like, ‘O.K., bye.'”

That was the last time she ever talked to him. Their final communication was one more text about 45 minutes later. “STILL on hold,” he wrote to her. Rebecca responded moments later: “Can’t say you’re not trying.”

Morrison called Rebecca at 7:04 p.m., according to her cell phone, but she was leading a group-therapy session and missed it. He didn’t leave a message.

Two and a half hours later, she returned home from her grad-school counseling class. She threw her books down when she entered the living room and called his name. No answer. She saw his boots by the door; the mail was there, so she knew he had to be home. “I walked into our bedroom, and he was lying on the floor with his head on a pillow, on my side of the bed.” He was still in his uniform.

Rebecca stammers, talking softly and slowly through her sobs. “He had shot himself in the neck,” she says. “There was no note or anything. He was fully dressed, and I ran over to him and checked his pulse … and he had no pulse. I just ran out of the house screaming, ‘Call 911!’ and ran to the neighbors.”

The Next Mission

At a suicide-prevention conference in June, Panetta laid down a charge: “We’ve got to do everything we can to make sure that the system itself is working to help soldiers. Not to hide this issue, not to make the wrong judgments about this issue, but to face facts and deal with the problems up front and make sure that we provide the right diagnosis and that we follow up on that kind of diagnosis.”

But what makes preventing suicide so confounding is that even therapy often fails. “Over 50% of the soldiers who committed suicide in the four years that I was vice [chief] had seen a behavioral-health specialist,” recalls Chiarelli. “It was a common thing to hear about someone who had committed suicide who went in to see a behavioral-health specialist and was dead within 24, 48 or 72 hours–and to hear he had a diagnosis that said, ‘This individual is no danger to himself or anyone else.’ That’s when I realized that something’s the matter.”

There’s the horrific human cost, and there is a literal cost as well. The educations of McCaddon and Morrison cost taxpayers a sum approaching $2 million. “If the Army can’t be reached through the emotional side of it–that I lost my husband–well, they lost a $400,000 West Point education and God knows how much in flight school,” Rebecca says. (The Army says Morrison’s pilot training cost $700,000.) Adds Leslie: “They’d invested hundreds of thousands of dollars into this asset. At the very least, why didn’t they protect their asset?”

Captain McCaddon was buried with full military honors on April 3 in Gloucester, Mass. A pair of officers traveled from Hawaii for the service and presented his family with the Army Commendation Medal “for his selfless and excellent service.” Leslie and their three children also received the U.S. flag that had been draped over his casket and three spent shells fired by the honor guard. They visited his grave on Father’s Day to leave flowers, and each child left a card. After two years of chemotherapy, their oldest child’s leukemia remains in remission.

Captain Morrison was buried in central Texas on March 31. The Army had awarded him several decorations, including the Iraq Campaign Medal with Campaign Star. There were military honors graveside, and a bugler played taps. At his widow’s request, there was no rifle volley fired.